Abstract

Newborn infants respond preferentially to simple face-like patterns, raising the possibility that the face-specific regions identified in the adult cortex are functioning from birth. We sought to evaluate this hypothesis by characterizing the specificity of infants' electrocortical responses to faces in two ways: (1) comparing responses to faces of humans with those to faces of nonhuman primates; and 2) comparing responses to upright and inverted faces. Adults' face-responsive N170 event-related potential (ERP) component showed specificity to upright human faces that was not observable at any point in the ERPs of infants. A putative “infant N170” did show sensitivity to the species of the face, but the orientation of the face did not influence processing until a later stage. These findings suggest a process of gradual specialization of cortical face processing systems during postnatal development.

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