Jan. 4, 2005 December 2004 -- A study publishing in the recent issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science reports that infants are highly sensitive to the shape and structure of the human face from birth, but not the human body. Recognition of the shape and structure of the human body does not occur until sometime in the second year of life.
A mother’s smile, a father’s loving eyes: From the day we’re born, the sight of other humans is probably the most important and complex focus of our visual attention (as well as of myriad other behaviors). Research has given us a rich understanding of the perceptual mechanisms infants use to identify and distinguish between human faces. We know that babies use not only physical characteristics, but also characteristic expressions, postures and movements to identify specific individuals.
In the study University of Queensland researchers Virginia Slaughter and Valerie Stone, along with Catherine Reed, University of Denver found that “the developmental time courses for detecting human faces and bodies are different.” Infants between 12 and 18 months were shown 4 images of human faces and bodies. There was an image of a “typical” face and a “typical” body. And the other two images were scrambled, i.e. the limbs were in noncanonical location like on the top of the head or the eyes, nose, and ears were all moved. The researchers found that infants younger than 18 months did not display a preference for either body image, but clearly preferred the “typical” face. By 18 months the infants looked longer at the scrambled body images, presumably because they found those images novel or surprising. “These developmental data indicate that infants’ perceptual expectations about typical human faces develop much easier than their expectations about human bodies,” the study states.
The study appears in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.
Current Directions in Psychological Science publishes concise reviews on the latest advances in theory and research spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications. The American Psychological Society represents psychologists advocating science-based research in the public's interest.
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