Faces are important visual stimuli to social primates because they transmit information that can be used to identify an individual. The human visual system is required to categorize, identify and remember the thousands of faces that are encountered throughout life. According to a popular theory, this is achieved by encoding the distinctiveness of each face on a number of linear dimensions representing independent perceptual attributes. In this multidimensional space, known as "norm-based face space" the identity of a given face is represented by its deviation from the central norm (the average of all previously seen faces). A major advantage of this framework is that it can help clarify how the human brain perceives and recognizes faces. Although face space has received a great deal of recent attention in the adult human literature, it is virtually unexplored in young infants and nonhuman primates. Only a handful of studies have investigated face space in children with the youngest age group being children over 4 years. This is primarily due to the reliance on verbal responses as dependent variables in the experimental procedures. In this study, we will develop rigorous psychophysical methods to study the structure of face space in young, preverbal infants (6 and 9 months of age) and nonhuman primates (chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys).This research has broad health implications as it will provide a complete understanding of how face space develops in humans and provide, as such, a valuable baseline for understanding the impairments in face coding that manifest in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Dr. Jess Taubert
Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, Atlanta