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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02326

Is visual perceptual narrowing an obligatory developmental process?

  • 1New York University, United States

Perceptual narrowing, or an increased perceptual sensitivity to frequently encountered stimuli at the expense of sensitivity to infrequently encountered stimuli, has been observed in unimodal speech and visual perception, as well as in multimodal perception, leading to the suggestion that it is a fundamental feature of perceptual development. However, recent findings examining temporal dynamics, rather than standard overall looking time, suggest that perceptual narrowing of multimodal perception might not be obligatory. Across two experiments, we assess perceptual narrowing in unimodal visual perception using remote eye-tracking. We compare adults’ looking at human faces and monkey faces of different species, and present analyses of standard overall looking time and temporal dynamics. As expected, adults discriminated between different human faces, but, unlike previous studies, they also discriminated between different monkey faces. Temporal dynamics revealed that adults were faster to discriminate human than monkey faces, suggesting a processing advantage for conspecifics compared to other animals. Adults’ success in discriminating between faces of two unfamiliar monkey species calls into question whether perceptual narrowing is an obligatory developmental process. Humans undoubtedly diminish in their ability to perceive distinctions between infrequently encountered stimuli as compared to frequently encountered stimuli, however, consistent with recent findings, this narrowing should be conceptualized as a refinement and not as a loss of abilities. Perceptual abilities for infrequently encountered stimuli may be detectable, though weaker compared to adults’ perception of frequently encountered stimuli.

Keywords: perceptual narrowing, perceptual development, face perception, Eye-tracking (ET), conspecific, monkey

Received: 13 Aug 2018; Accepted: 06 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Maria Olkkonen, Durham University, United Kingdom

Reviewed by:

Sarina Hui-Lin Chien, China Medical University, Taiwan
Stacey Aston, Durham University, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Sorcinelli and Vouloumanos. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Andrea Sorcinelli, New York University, New York City, United States, andrea.sorcinelli@nyu.edu