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Roberto Caldara, Sebastien Miellet, Xinyue Zhou; Face recognition subserves nature not nurture. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):505. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/9.8.505.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Eye movement strategies employed by humans to identify conspecifics are not universal. Westerners predominantly fixate the eye region during face recognition, whereas Easterners consistently focus more on the nose, yet recognition accuracy is comparable (Blais et al., 2008). However, the face literature has robustly shown that the critical information for face recognition is located in the eyes and partially the mouth, but not the nose. Moreover, since eye movements in natural viewing conditions do not provide unequivocal evidence on the measure of the visual information being used by observers, the question of whether humans universally use similar facial information to recognize faces remains unresolved.
To address this issue, we monitored eye movements during face recognition of thirty Western Caucasian (WC) and thirty East Asian (EA) observers with a novel technique that parametrically restricts information outside central vision. We used ‘Spotlights’ with Gaussian apertures of 2°, 5° or 8° dynamically centered on observers' fixations. Face recognition performance improved with increasing Spotlight apertures. Regardless of culture, observers actively fixated the eyes and mouth with constrained Spotlights (2°, 5°). In the 8° condition, information from both eyes and mouth was simultaneously available when fixating the nose and, as expected, only EA observers shifted their fixations towards this region. This central location is optimal to integrate information globally, a cultural marker of Easterners' perceptual strategies. WC observers engage in analytic strategies and their facial feature-by-feature strategy was not affected by Spotlight apertures.
Social experience and cultural factors shape the way humans think about the world and regulate the strategies used to extract information from faces. However, these external forces do not modulate the information used to solve this critical biological feat. Human beings rely on identical facial information to recognize conspecifics, a universal law dictated by the evolutionary constraints of nature and not nurture.
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