Finding faces among faces: human faces are located more quickly and accurately than other primate and mammal faces

Elizabeth A. Simpson, Zachary Buchin, Katie Werner, Rey Worrell, Krisztina V. Jakobsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We tested the specificity of human face search efficiency by examining whether there is a broad window of detection for various face-like stimuli—human and animal faces—or whether own-species faces receive greater attentional allocation. We assessed the strength of the own-species face detection bias by testing whether human faces are located more efficiently than other animal faces, when presented among various other species’ faces, in heterogeneous 16-, 36-, and 64-item arrays. Across all array sizes, we found that, controlling for distractor type, human faces were located faster and more accurately than primate and mammal faces, and that, controlling for target type, searches were faster when distractors were human faces compared to animal faces, revealing more efficient processing of human faces regardless of their role as targets or distractors (Experiment 1). Critically, these effects remained when searches were for specific species’ faces (human, chimpanzee, otter), ruling out a category-level explanation (Experiment 2). Together, these results suggest that human faces may be processed more efficiently than animal faces, both when task-relevant (targets) and task-irrelevant (distractors), even in direct competition with other faces. These results suggest that there is not a broad window of detection for all face-like patterns but that human adults process own-species’ faces more efficiently than other species’ faces. Such own-species search efficiencies may arise through experience with own-species faces throughout development or may be privileged early in development, due to the evolutionary importance of conspecifics’ faces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2175-2183
Number of pages9
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal faces
  • Face detection
  • Search efficiency
  • Visual attention
  • Visual search

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language


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