Efficient human face detection in infancy

Krisztina V. Jakobsen, Lindsey Umstead, Elizabeth A. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Adults detect conspecific faces more efficiently than heterospecific faces; however, the development of this own-species bias (OSB) remains unexplored. We tested whether 6- and 11-month-olds exhibit OSB in their attention to human and animal faces in complex visual displays with high perceptual load (25 images competing for attention). Infants (n=48) and adults (n=43) passively viewed arrays containing a face among 24 non-face distractors while we measured their gaze with remote eye tracking. While OSB is typically not observed until about 9 months, we found that, already by 6 months, human faces were more likely to be detected, were detected more quickly (attention capture), and received longer looks (attention holding) than animal faces. These data suggest that 6-month-olds already exhibit OSB in face detection efficiency, consistent with perceptual attunement. This specialization may reflect the biological importance of detecting conspecific faces, a foundational ability for early social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-136
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention capture
  • Eye tracking
  • Face learning
  • Face processing
  • Face specialization
  • Infant
  • Own-species bias
  • Perceptual attunement
  • Saliency
  • Social orienting
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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