Can generic expertise explain special processing for faces?

Trends Cogn Sci. 2007 Jan;11(1):8-15. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.11.002. Epub 2006 Nov 28.


Does face recognition involve face-specific cognitive and neural processes ('domain specificity') or do faces only seem special because people have had more experience of individuating them than they have of individuating members of other homogeneous object categories ('the expertise hypothesis')? Here, we summarize new data that test these hypotheses by assessing whether classic face-selective effects - holistic processing, recognition impairments in prosopagnosia and fusiform face area activation - remain face selective in comparison with objects of expertise. We argue that evidence strongly supports domain specificity rather than the expertise hypothesis. We conclude that the crucial social function of face recognition does not reflect merely a general practice phenomenon and that it might be supported by evolved mechanisms (visual or nonvisual) and/or a sensitive period in infancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Face*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Humans
  • Medicine
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prosopagnosia / genetics*
  • Prosopagnosia / physiopathology*
  • Specialization