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Dev Psychobiol. 2016 Jan;58(1):129-36. doi: 10.1002/dev.21338. Epub 2015 Aug 6.

Efficient human face detection in infancy.

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Department of Psychology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA, USA.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Dickerson, MD, USA.
Department of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Parma, Italy.


Adults detect conspecific faces more efficiently than heterospecific faces; however, the development of this own-species bias (OSB) remains unexplored. We tested whether 6- and 11-month-olds exhibit OSB in their attention to human and animal faces in complex visual displays with high perceptual load (25 images competing for attention). Infants (nā€‰=ā€‰48) and adults (nā€‰=ā€‰43) passively viewed arrays containing a face among 24 non-face distractors while we measured their gaze with remote eye tracking. While OSB is typically not observed until about 9 months, we found that, already by 6 months, human faces were more likely to be detected, were detected more quickly (attention capture), and received longer looks (attention holding) than animal faces. These data suggest that 6-month-olds already exhibit OSB in face detection efficiency, consistent with perceptual attunement. This specialization may reflect the biological importance of detecting conspecific faces, a foundational ability for early social interactions.


attention capture; eye tracking; face learning; face processing; face specialization; infant; own-species bias; perceptual attunement; saliency; social orienting; visual attention

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