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Recognising others: Adaptive changes to person recognition throughout the lifespan

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Maguinness, C., & Newell, F. N. (2014). Recognising others: Adaptive changes to person recognition throughout the lifespan. In B. L. Schwartz, M. L. Howe, M. P. Toglia, & H. Otgaar (Eds.), What is adaptive about adaptive memory? (pp. 231-257). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0025-6D6E-C
Humans are social and we have evolved in close proximity with one another, surrounded by different identities almost everywhere we turn. The accurate perception of others is a fundamental aspect of social cognition, allowing us to detect the intention, attention and identity of an individual (among other attributes) (Bruce & Young, 1986). Indeed humans have developed an expertise for face perception, which arguably exceeds the perception of other stimuli: we can remember thousands of faces as 'unique'. When we consider the influence that this skill has on our behaviour it is not difficult to understand its evolutionary significance and how it is likely to have assisted in negotiating our survival, mediating among other things, approach-avoidance behaviour (Engell, Haxby, & Todorov, 2007; Todorov, 2008), mate selection (Little, Jones, & DeBruine, 2011; Rhodes, 2006; Rhodes, Simmons, & Peters, 2005), the recognition of familiar, unrelated others (Bruce, Henderson, Newman, & Burton, 2001; Burton, Wilson, Cowen, & Bruce, 1999; Rossion, Schiltz, & Crommelinck, 2003) and the recognition of kin (DeBruine et al., 2009; Maloney & Dal Martello, 2006). Yet for such a skill to be truly adaptive we must consider that recognising others is not purely dependent on our memory for faces alone but that other social information, particularly information in the voice, can be used to identify others. Like the face, the voice conveys information which can act as an identity signature and affect recognition and thus can be thought of as an ‘auditory face’ (Belin, Fecteau, & Bédard, 2004). In this chapter we explore the selection pressures that were likely to have mediated the development of our ability to recognise others. We consider how face recognition reflects a unique cognitive process with genetic underpinnings, highlighting face recognition as a phylogenetic adaptation (i.e. within species adaptation). Although recent research has highlighted the influence of genes on face recognition abilities, this chapter discusses evidence that face recognition abilities are rapidly acquired, and can be influenced by our surrounding environment. This experience-dependent malleability suggests that face recognition is also a product of ontogenetic adaptation (i.e. individual development across the lifespan), which has direct consequences on our ability to discriminate and remember faces. Although most research on face perception has been based on the recognition of faces from static images, here we also discuss research which highlights our ability to recognise faces under naturalistic conditions, such as the face in motion. Finally, we review the neural processes underlying face recognition and how they may share similar neural underpinnings to voice recognition, with the argument that such common processing of face and voice information most likely evolved to support person recognition throughout the lifespan.