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Babies recognise individual monkey faces


Researchers at the University of Sheffield have shown that babies can be taught to distinguish between different monkey faces in the same way that they distinguish individual human faces. The team had previously demonstrated that babies begin life with a general ability to distinguish faces, regardless of species, but that this ability becomes more specialised around the age of 9 months. However, this new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that children can retain the ability to distinguish between other species’ faces if they are exposed to them on a regular basis.

Dr Olivier Pascalis, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield explains, “Face recognition is remarkable in that it is a cognitive development that actually involves a loss of ability. Basically, until around 6 months old babies can recognise individuals from any species but, by the age of nine months they have ‘tuned in’ to human faces, giving them an ability to spot smaller differences between human faces, but eroding the ability to recognise animals from other species.

“Our experiment aimed to discover whether this ‘tuning in’ effect was due to babies being exposed to human faces more often than to other species, or whether it is something that happens over time, regardless of environment.

“The babies in our experiment were shown pictures of monkeys for one to two minutes every day between the ages of six and nine months. The control group weren’t shown the pictures.

“At nine months of age, the babies returned and completed a face recognition task. The infants were first familiarised with a monkey face and then presented with a pair of pictures: the familiar face and a new face .We looked at the amount of time the baby spends on looking at each picture, based on the finding that a child will spend more time looking at something new if they can recognise it.

“The experiment showed that the babies who had been regularly shown the monkey faces had retained the ability to distinguish individuals, whereas the control group had lost this skill.”

For further information: please contact Lorna Branton, media relations manager, on 0114 222 1046.

The University now has an ISDN mixer-equipped radio studio on campus for broadcast quality radio interviews. Please contact the media team on 0114 222 1046 for more information.

Lorna Branton | alfa
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