But learning more about it may help us understand autism spectrum disorders better:
That said, babies are born knowing some things. And this is where Vallortigara’s research gets really interesting:
The same kind of preference [as with chicks] was subsequently discovered in human neonates, as the cognitive neuroscientist Mark Johnson and colleagues showed, based on the newborns’ eye gaze. Recently, my team used EEG to measure electrical activity in the brains of newborns as they saw face-like, inverted face-like, or scrambled face-like configurations, and we found impressive selectivity of response to the first pattern. That is, we observed a significantly stronger change in our measure of cortical activity in response to the upright face-like stimuli, as compared with the other stimuli. We also revealed the involvement of cortical areas that overlap with the adult face-processing circuit. Our findings suggest that the cortical route specialised for face processing is already functional at birth.Giorgio Vallortigara, “Babies and chicks help solve one of psychology’s oldest puzzles” at Psyche (February 2, 2022)
Babies (and chicks) also preferred biological motion to mechanical motion. How did they know?
Maybe the babies are quick learners. No because, as Vallortigara notes, the preference actually waned as the babies grew older. But then it spiked again at a couple of months of age:
It’s interesting to note that these life-detecting abilities appear to wax and wane as babies age. For instance, the preference for biological motion seems to vanish at one and two months of age in human infants, and then to reappear by three months. A likely explanation is that, at birth, animals possess innate mechanisms that act in a reflex-like manner, serving to direct their attention to relevant stimuli in the environment, such as caregivers. Then a second mechanism, based on learning, might take precedence, allowing more specific recognition – ie, the face of Mom as opposed to a stranger, or the movement of one’s own species as opposed to generic biological motion, and so on.Giorgio Vallortigara, “Babies and chicks help solve one of psychology’s oldest puzzles” at Psyche (February 2, 2022)
So there are two stages in babies’ recognition of other humans; one is innate and covers the first months of life, gradually waning in favor of the second, which is learned. That may have implications for the detection and early treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)News, “The mystery of how newborns know things gets deeper” at Mind Matters News (The mystery of how newborns know things gets deeper)
Takehome: An innate program guides newborns to seek human faces and body movements but it wanes in favor of personal learning. But that may take longer for autists.
You may also wish to read: Source of most animal intelligence still a mystery. Eric Cassell takes questions: If life forms are born or hatched knowing this stuff, it isn’t learned. But if it’s in the genes, where is it? Questions range from “Do animals have free will?” through “How do migratory animals adapt to magnetic poll reversals” which may come every 1000 years or so?