Samantha M. W. Wood and Justin N. Wood
University of Southern California
How does face recognition emerge in the newborn brain? To address this question, we used an automated controlled-rearing method with a newborn animal model: the domestic chick (Gallus gallus). This automated method allowed us to examine chicks’ face recognition abilities at the onset of both face experience and object experience. In the first week of life, newly hatched chicks were raised in controlled-rearing chambers that contained no objects other than a single virtual human face. In the second week of life, we used an automated forced-choice testing procedure to examine whether chicks could distinguish that familiar face from a variety of unfamiliar faces. Chicks successfully distinguished the familiar face from most of the unfamiliar faces—for example, chicks were sensitive to changes in the face’s age, gender, and orientation (upright vs. inverted). Thus, chicks can build an accurate representation of the first face they see in their life. These results show that the initial state of face recognition is surprisingly powerful: Newborn visual systems can begin encoding and recognizing faces at the onset of vision.