The evolution of social orienting: evidence from chicks (Gallus gallus) and human newborns

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 20;6(4):e18802. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018802.


Background: Converging evidence from different species indicates that some newborn vertebrates, including humans, have visual predispositions to attend to the head region of animate creatures. It has been claimed that newborn preferences for faces are domain-relevant and similar in different species. One of the most common criticisms of the work supporting domain-relevant face biases in human newborns is that in most studies they already have several hours of visual experience when tested. This issue can be addressed by testing newly hatched face-naïve chicks (Gallus gallus) whose preferences can be assessed prior to any other visual experience with faces.

Methods: In the present study, for the first time, we test the prediction that both newly hatched chicks and human newborns will demonstrate similar preferences for face stimuli over spatial frequency matched structured noise. Chicks and babies were tested using identical stimuli for the two species. Chicks underwent a spontaneous preference task, in which they have to approach one of two stimuli simultaneously presented at the ends of a runway. Human newborns participated in a preferential looking task.

Results and significance: We observed a significant preference for orienting toward the face stimulus in both species. Further, human newborns spent more time looking at the face stimulus, and chicks preferentially approached and stood near the face-stimulus. These results confirm the view that widely diverging vertebrates possess similar domain-relevant biases toward faces shortly after hatching or birth and provide a behavioural basis for a comparison with neuroimaging studies using similar stimuli.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Face*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Visual Perception*