The evolution of face processing in primates

Lisa A. Parr

Abstract

The ability to recognize faces is an important socio-cognitive skill that is associated with a number of cognitive specializations in humans. While numerous studies have examined the presence of these specializations in non-human primates, species where face recognition would confer distinct advantages in social situations, results have been mixed. The majority of studies in chimpanzees support homologous face-processing mechanisms with humans, but results from monkey studies appear largely dependent on the type of testing methods used. Studies that employ passive viewing paradigms, like the visual paired comparison task, report evidence of similarities between monkeys and humans, but tasks that use more stringent, operant response tasks, like the matching-to-sample task, often report species differences. Moreover, the data suggest that monkeys may be less sensitive than chimpanzees and humans to the precise spacing of facial features, in addition to the surface-based cues reflected in those features, information that is critical for the representation of individual identity. The aim of this paper is to provide a comprehensive review of the available data from face-processing tasks in non-human primates with the goal of understanding the evolution of this complex cognitive skill.

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