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J Exp Child Psychol. 2013 Jul;115(3):598-606. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.01.006. Epub 2013 Mar 15.

Eye contrast polarity is critical for face recognition by infants.

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  • 1School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. yumikoot@gmail.com


Just as faces share the same basic arrangement of features, with two eyes above a nose above a mouth, human eyes all share the same basic contrast polarity relations, with a sclera lighter than an iris and a pupil, and this is unique among primates. The current study examined whether this bright-dark relationship of sclera to iris plays a critical role in face recognition from early in development. Specifically, we tested face discrimination in 7- and 8-month-old infants while independently manipulating the contrast polarity of the eye region and of the rest of the face. This gave four face contrast polarity conditions: fully positive condition, fully negative condition, positive face with negated eyes ("negative eyes") condition, and negated face with positive eyes ("positive eyes") condition. In a familiarization and novelty preference procedure, we found that 7- and 8-month-olds could discriminate between faces only when the contrast polarity of the eyes was preserved (positive) and that this did not depend on the contrast polarity of the rest of the face. This demonstrates the critical role of eye contrast polarity for face recognition in 7- and 8-month-olds and is consistent with previous findings for adults.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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