The development and neural bases of face recognition


  • Charles A. Nelson

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
    • Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, 51 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA
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Evidence from fields as diverse as cognitive, evolutionary, and developmental psychology, as well as cognitive neuroscience, has increasingly pointed to the ‘special’ nature of face recognition. A critical examination of the literature supports the view that faces begin to be seen as a separate class of objects within the first 6 months of life. Not surprisingly, the neural systems that underlie face recognition also come on line during this period of time. Less clear, however, are the mechanisms whereby these events occur. It seems likely that face recognition reflects an experience-expectant process, whereby exposure to faces during a sensitive period of development likely leads to perceptual and cortical specialization. However, it is unknown what the role of experience is in maintaining this ability, and how long this sensitive period lasts. After reviewing three related models that attempt to account for the way the ability to recognize faces develops, a number of suggestions are offered for testing the hypothesis that face recognition depends on experience for acquisition, and for evaluating the role of experience in maintaining this ability. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.