Babies cannot develop facial recognition skills if they are not exposed to faces during early life

(Mirror Daily, United States) – Until now, it has been generally believed that facial recognition is an innate ability of the humans. We thought babies choose to stare at faces because it is in their nature to recognize them. However, a recent study proves this theory wrong. Babies come to recognize faces because they are exposed to them for a longer period. Lack of exposure would lead to lack of this ability.

Is facial recognition innate?

Researchers discovered that not an innate ability, but early exposure to faces drives a baby to develop facial recognition skills. If the baby doesn’t get this input, the neurons in the area of the brain responsible with recognizing faces won’t develop enough. Further proof for this hypothesis is given by two disorders which affect this ability.

A person no longer recognizes or is attracted to faces if he suffers from autism of prosopagnosia. In the latter, the development of neurons is affected. Therefore, the person no longer sees frequently encountered faces as familiar. This condition occurs either from birth or due to brain injury.

People suffering from autism still recognize faces, but they are not attracted to them. Their neurons also get affected but, instead of preferring faces, they develop an aversion towards them. This condition cannot be acquired throughout life, and people are born with it.

Certain areas of the brain get activated only if the baby is exposed to seeing faces

Researchers performed brain scans to analyze those neurons which deal with facial recognition. They are clustered in patches in certain areas of the brain, and develop during the first six months of a baby’s life. This is how they observed that a complete lack of exposure to faces led to no development whatsoever in these patches.

Therefore, researchers established that seeing faces during early development is related to a more intense activity in these areas of the brain. Therefore, only if the baby gets the necessary input, it will develop facial recognition abilities. If not, this ability will be impaired, as it is not innate. All the details have been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
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