Chimpanzee faces are 'special' to humans

  • Taubert J
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A longstanding proposal is that primates, including humans, might have an innate representation of face structure. But, if humans have such a representation, how broad is its form: limited to coding conspecifics, or general enough to cover related species? The results reported here show adult humans process faces of chimpanzees in a way previously assumed to be exclusive to human faces. The composite effect was used to provide the first direct test of so-called holistic processing. Despite no lifetime experience of chimpanzees, adult humans showed a substantial composite effect for chimpanzee faces, and also an inversion effect. There was no similar evidence of holistic processing for faces of species of greater phylogenic distance from humans, including gorillas, spider monkeys, sheep, chickens, and Jacky lizards; nor was there any effect for non-face objects. In contrast to the holistic processing results, discrimination of chimpanzee faces was, as expected, poor. In the context of evidence that poor discrimination of heterospecific faces arises from a process of perceptual narrowing in infancy, our results suggest that adults retain some aspects of a broader bandwidth present in neonates (holistic processing) but lose others (discrimination).

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  • Jessica Taubert

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