Evolutionary Relevance and Experience Contribute to Face Discrimination in Infant Macaques (Macaca mulatta)

Elizabeth A. Simpson, Stephen J. Suomi, Annika Paukner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In human children and adults, familiar face types—typically own-age and own-species faces—are discriminated better than other face types; however, human infants do not appear to exhibit an own-age bias but instead better discriminate adult faces, which they see more often. There are two possible explanations for this pattern: Perceptual attunement predicts advantages in discrimination for the most experienced face types. Additionally or alternatively, there may be an experience-independent bias for infants to discriminate own-species faces, an adaptation for evolutionarily relevant faces. These possibilities have not been disentangled in studies thus far, and these studies did not control infants’ early experiences with faces. In the present study, we tested these predictions in infant macaques (Macaca mulatta) reared under controlled environments, not exposed to adult conspecifics. We measured newborns’ (15–25 days; n = 27) and 6- to 7-month-olds’ (n = 35) discrimination of human and macaque faces at 3 ages—young infants, old infants, and adults—in a visual paired comparison task. We found that 6- to 7-month-olds were the best at discriminating adult macaque faces; however, in the first few seconds of looking, tthey additionally discriminated familiar face types—same-aged peer and adult human faces—thereby highlighting the importance of experience with certain face categories. The present data suggest that macaque infants possess both experience-independent and experientially tuned face biases. In human infants, early face skills may likewise be driven by both experience and evolutionary relevance; future studies should consider both of these factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-299
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cognition and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 14 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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