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Thatcher Effect in Monkeys Demonstrates Conservation of Face Perception across Primates

Ikuma Adachi, Dina P. Chou and Robert R. Hampton

Accurate recognition of individuals is a foundation of social cognition. The remarkable ability of humans to distinguish among thousands of similar faces depends on sensitivity to unique configurations of facial features, including subtle differences in the relative placement of the eyes and mouth [1,2]. Determining whether similar perceptual processes underlie individual recognition in nonhuman primates is important for both the study of cognitive evolution and the appropriate use of primate models in social cognition research. In humans, some of the best evidence for a keen sensitivity to the configuration of features in faces comes from the Thatcher effect. This effect shows that it is difficult to detect changes in the orientation of the eyes and mouth in an image of an inverted face, even though identical changes are unmistakable in an upright face [3,4]. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that a nonhuman primate species also exhibits the Thatcher effect. This direct evidence of configural face perception in monkeys, collected under testing conditions that closely parallel those used with humans, indicates that perceptual mechanisms for individual recognition have been conserved through primate cognitive evolution.

Current Biology, Published Online: 25 June 2009, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.067


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