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Prog Brain Res. 2007;164:169-85.

How face specialization emerges in the first months of life.

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Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione, Università degli studi di Padova, Padova Italy.


The present chapter deals with the topic of the ontogeny and development of face processing in the first months of life and is organized into two sections concerning face detection and face recognition. The first section focuses on the mechanisms underlying infants' visual preference for faces. Evidence is reviewed supporting the contention that newborns' face preferences is due to a set of non-specific constraints that stem from the general characteristics of the human visuo-perceptual system, rather than to a representational bias for faces. It is shown that infants' response to faces becomes more and more tuned to the face category over the first 3 months of life, revealing a gradual progressive specialization of the face-processing system. The second section sought to determine the properties of face recognition at birth. In particular, a series of experiments are presented to examine whether the inner facial part is processed and encoded when newborns recognize a face, and what kind of information--featural or configural--newborns' face recognition rely on. Overall, results are consistent with the existence of general constraints present at birth that tune the system to become specialized for faces later during development.

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