Magazine article Science News

Babies Learn to Save Face: Infants Get Prepped to Perceive

Magazine article Science News

Babies Learn to Save Face: Infants Get Prepped to Perceive

Article excerpt

By the time babies are 6 months old, they distinguish the faces of different people--and can also discern the faces of specific monkeys. Now, researchers have found that with parental coaching, infants can retain their skill at telling animals apart instead of losing it by 9 months of age as babies usually do.

In their investigations of baby perception, psychologist Olivier Pascalis of the University of Sheffield in England and his team hypothesize that infants rapidly transform themselves from perceptual generalists to specialists (SN: 5/18/02, p. 307). Intense practice at discerning different human faces prompts the loss of perceptual insights into nonhuman faces by 9 months of age, the scientists propose.

That perceptual trade-off may not be inevitable, however. From age 6 months to 9 months, babies whose parents show them photographs of monkeys' faces for brief periods hang on to the ability to tell one furry primate's mug from another, Pascalis and his coworkers report in an upcoming Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers are now testing how long this retention lasts.

"Our data further elucidate the role of early experience in the development of face processing," Pascalis says.

In the new study, 26 infants participated in face-recognition trials. While being held by their mothers, the 6-month-olds viewed an image of a monkey's face and then saw that picture presented alongside another monkey's face. All the animals displayed neutral expressions. …

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