Enlarge / Rhesus macaques are a social species, complete with gossip and angry faces. (credit: flickr user: jinterwas)
What’s in a newborn brain? It’s a question we’re obsessed with, because its answers seem to promise us basic truths about what we humans are as a species before our culture muddies the waters.

A paper in Nature Neuroscience this week shows that monkeys raised without exposure to faces don’t develop specialized face-recognition domains in their brains.

The results help to explain our own brains a little better, and the research also sketches an idea of how environmental input might lead to specialized brain circuitry over time.
Face recognition is something that seems to be profoundly central to us as a social species.

Adult human brains have circuitry dedicated to processing faces, and even very young babies seem to look at faces more than at other objects in their environment (although these results are debated by researchers in the field). Other primates also preferentially look at faces and have dedicated brain circuitry to handle it.
As an incredibly social species, are we born with the concept of “face” somewhere in our brains, enabling us to latch on to this all-important part of our environment as soon as we’re out in the world? Some researchers think that this is the best explanation of infants’ preference for looking at faces. Others think it’s more likely that we develop the concept of what a face is over time, based on our experience of the world.
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