06:22am Monday 23 October 2017

Face first: New study finds face recognition ability is in our genes

Brain activity associated with face recognition.

Face perception is a vital aspect of normal social functioning that is underpinned by specialised cognitive and neural mechanisms. Previous research has shown that there are sections of the brain involved in face perception and that face perception disorders such as prosopagnosia (face blindness) and autism tend to occur more often in families.

This has led people to suggest that face perception may be innate or predetermined. However the current study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America is the first to demonstrate a genetic link to our face perception abilities.

Associate Professor Mark Williams, from Macquarie University’s Centre for Cognitive Science, has collaborated with researchers from the United States and United Kingdom on the study, which analysed the face recognition ability of 289 twin pairs.

The twin pairs were split into two groups – monozygotic twins who generally originate from the one cell and are identical, and dizygotic twins who originate from two cells and are not identical.

The researchers then tested the twins face perception ability by asking the twins to study and recognise multiple faces presented in slightly different ways (i.e. at slightly different angles or with different lighting).

“We found that the correlation of scores between monozygotic twins was more than double the dizygotic twin correlation – results which establish a clear genetic basis for face recognition,” Williams said.

“The fact that dizygotic twin pairs had a much lower correlation despite shared environmental influences eliminates environment as a major contributing factor.”

Image supplied by Associate Professor Mark Williams.

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Samantha Norris

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