Thursday, June 25, 2009

Study gives clue to evolution of face recognition

Why does this image appear normal when viewed upside down, but clearly shows that it is distorted when right-side up? It's a phenomenon known as the Thatcher effect.

(Photo graphic by Ben Basile.)

Emory psychologists have shown for the first time that another species besides humans shares this face-recognition trait. The results of their study on rhesus monkeys, published in Current Biology, provides insight into the evolution of the critical human social skill of facial recognition.

"Face recognition is a fundamental part of human social life," says lead investigator Robert Hampton, from the department of psychology and Yerkes National Primate Research Center. "Our research indicates the ability to perform this skill probably evolved some 30 million or more years ago in an ancestor humans share with rhesus monkeys."

Dina Chou, second author of the study, assisted in the research as an undergraduate at Emory. Hampton's Laboratory of Comparative Primate Cognition offers many such cutting edge research opportunities for students. Take a virtual visit to the lab to see videotaped experiments of monkeys involved in tests of social cognition and memory – and take a test yourself.

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