Justin N. Wood & Samantha M. W. Wood
University of Southern California
Object recognition is central to perception and cognition. Yet relatively little is known about the environmental factors that cause invariant object recognition to emerge in the newborn brain. Is this ability a hardwired property of vision? Or does the development of invariant object recognition require experience with a particular kind of visual environment? Here, we used a high-throughput controlled-rearing method to examine whether newborn chicks (Gallus gallus) require visual experience with slowly changing objects to develop invariant object recognition abilities. When newborn chicks were raised with a slowly rotating virtual object, the chicks built invariant object representations that generalized across novel viewpoints and rotation speeds. In contrast, when newborn chicks were raised with a virtual object that rotated more quickly, the chicks built viewpoint-specific object representations that failed to generalize to novel viewpoints and rotation speeds. Moreover, there was a direct relationship between the speed of the object and the amount of invariance in the chick’s object representation. Thus, visual experience with slowly changing objects plays a critical role in the development of invariant object recognition. These results indicate that invariant object recognition is not a hardwired property of vision, but is learned rapidly when newborns encounter a slowly changing visual world.