Recognition of Familiar Faces

*Boston Children's Hospital- Division of Developmental Medicine, Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience

Despite the wide-ranging and prolonged interest in face recognition abilities and ample evidence that faces constitute a "special" class of stimuli, it is still unclear as to why or how face processing becomes specialized. Empirical evidence has indicated that face processing abilities in adults are impaired when stimuli are inverted, which has lead some researchers to posit that extensive experience with upright faces leads to this specialization of function. Additionally, previous research by de Haan and colleagues (2002) has suggested that specialization of cortical face processing circuits develops gradually over the first year of life, possibly due to increasing experience with faces. The purpose of this study is to examine how extensive experience with a specific face influences the development of the neural activity underlying face recognition during the first six months of life, in hopes of determining whether face recognition is an acquired expert system derived via experience-dependent or experience-expectant mechanisms. Specifically, we record six-month-old human infants' event related potentials (ERPs) while they view pictures of their mother's face, in both upright and inverted orientations, from 64 locations on the scalp using an EGI system. Additionally, another group of six-month-old infants view pictures of their father's face and a male stranger's face. Preliminary results provide support for the argument that specialization of face processing is influenced by experience.