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Title: The origins of human face recognition by young infants
Author: Sai, Fatma Zohra
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 1989
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The research described in this thesis investigated how newborn babies process information about faces. To answer this question the ability of neonates to discriminate between the face of their mother and that of a strange adult female and to show face recognition was explored. Existing research on face perception suggested different ages at which face discrimination is possible. Since these studies were flawed in their experimental procedures and stimuli, the validity of their findings could nave been questioned. In an initial experiment, neonates aged beteen 12 and 108 hours (Mean age 51.29 hrs) demonstrated a preference for their mother's face even when auditory cues were unavailable. Since olfactory information was not controlled, the results of very early visual face recognition were inconclusive. Subsequent experiments were designed to investigate the role of olfactory information in early face discrimination, and to control both olfactory and visual cues independently. Meonates proved to be unable to demonstrate an orientation preference for one mother rased on olfactory information alone, but could demonstrate such a preference when olfactory information was prevented and visual information was available. Preference for the mother was obtained both when faces varied non-systematically across subjects in terms of facial brightness, and when faces were matched as closely as possible for hair colour, hair length and facial brightness. The finding of very early face recognition raised doubts about the validity of the assumptions of the two-visual system model, suggesting that only sub-cortical processing is possible in young infants. The proposition of a distinction between cortically and sub-cortically mediated processes needs to be revised. The second part of the thesis examined the processing of invariant information in young infants. The data of a set of experiments indicated that the ability to detect invariance is absent in the neonatal period, but develops over the first few months. It is partly present at 1 month and continues to develp over the third month. The establishment of an internal representation of the mother's face which includes the different poses and the existence of a better developed storage and retrieval mechanism by the third month is suggested. Finally, a study which monitored the amount of contact between mother and neonate was carried out and the results indicated that approximately 273 of awake time is spent in face-to-face interaction with the mother over the first three days of life. The finding of a very early recognition of the mother's face despite the neonate not being continually in face-to-face interaction with the mother, suggests that the newborn infant is able to process and store at least some visual information about the mother's face for later use after limited exposure. Such capacity seems to be present in the first few hours of the infant's birth. What visual information is processed and used by neonates is still not known. It is, however, likely that the information does not come from dynamic properties of the stimulus face, but from relatively static information.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available