Monkey see

Our ability to recognize faces is a fascinating and oft commented on topic. How is it that we can differentiate between the tens of thousands (if not more) of people we come into contact with over the course of our life? Also, why is it that we differentiate between the faces of our fellow humans, but cannot differentiate between animal faces? One giraffe looks pretty much like any other.

In “The Age of Insight” Eric Kandel address this. It turns out at one point, we CAN differentiate between animal faces.

The brain mechanisms underlying face recognition emerge early in infancy. From birth onward, infants are much more likely to look at faces than at other objects…. Three-month-old infants begin to see differences in faces and to distinguish between individual faces. At this point they are universal face recognizers: they can recognize different monkey faces as readily as different human faces. They begin to lose their ability to distinguish between nonhuman faces at six months of age, because during this critical period in development they have been exposed primarily to different human faces and not two different animal faces.

Presumably, were a child raised by wolves, he would be able to differentiate between various wolf faces. That’s good to know.

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