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Curr Biol. 2009 Mar 24;19(6):509-13. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.01.061. Epub 2009 Feb 26.

Humans and macaques employ similar face-processing strategies.

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Department of Physiology of Cognitive Processes, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Primates developed the ability to recognize and individuate their conspecifics by the face. Despite numerous electrophysiological studies in monkeys, little is known about the face-processing strategies that monkeys employ. In contrast, face perception in humans has been the subject of many studies providing evidence for specific face processing that evolves with perceptual expertise. Importantly, humans process faces holistically, here defined as the processing of faces as wholes, rather than as collections of independent features (part-based processing). The question remains to what extent humans and monkeys share these face-processing mechanisms. By using the same experimental design and stimuli for both monkey and human behavioral experiments, we show that face processing is influenced by the species affiliation of the observed face stimulus (human versus macaque face). Furthermore, stimulus manipulations that selectively reduced holistic and part-based information systematically altered eye-scanning patterns for human and macaque observers similarly. These results demonstrate the similar nature of face perception in humans and monkeys and pin down effects of expert face-processing versus novice face-processing strategies. These findings therefore directly contribute to one of the central discussions in the behavioral and neurosciences about how faces are perceived in primates.

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