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Experiment Reveals Babies' Extraordinary Abilities
The major experiment, called a "visual paired comparison procedure," assessed recognition abilities in both babies and adults. Eleven adults and 30 healthy, full term six-month-olds and 30 healthy, full term nine-month-olds were shown pairs of colored pictures of male and female Caucasian faces and monkey faces, the latter of Macaca fascicularis species. Of the two pictures, one was never shown before, and another was familiar from a prior viewing. The researchers detected recognition by videotaping and recording the participant's tendency to stare at the new item longer.
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Adults took longer to examine new pictures of human faces compared to older faces, but they looked just as long at the new and old monkey faces. Similarly, nine-month-olds looked longer toward new human faces than old human faces, but six-month-olds spent significantly longer time to look at both new human faces and new monkey faces compared to the old ones. In other words, the youngest group preferred novel faces of two species, while the two older groups preferred to process the novel picture only for human faces.
The results suggest that, like the way younger brains can tell apart new speech sounds more easily than adults, the ability to recognize new faces diminishes with time as the "perceptual window" narrows. Early brain tuning, the researchers remind, however, does not indicate adults cannot use perception to learn how to discriminate a new class of stimuli and learn new languages or tell apart non-humans.
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