For humans, the appeal of looking at faces starts before birth | Science News

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For humans, the appeal of looking at faces starts before birth

Experiment is the first to test visual perception in fetuses

By
12:00pm, June 8, 2017
human fetus

FACIAL FIXATION  For the first time, scientists have peered inside the womb to watch how fetuses react to the sight of different images.

Fascination with faces is nature, not nurture, suggests a new study of third-trimester fetuses.

Scientists have long known that babies like looking at faces more than other objects. But research published online June 8 in Current Biology offers evidence that this preference develops before birth. In the first-ever study of prenatal visual perception, fetuses were more likely to move their heads to track facelike configurations of light projected into the womb than nonfacelike shapes.

Past research has shown that newborns pay special attention to faces, even if a “face” is stripped down to its bare essentials — for instance, a triangle of three dots: two up top for eyes, one below for a mouth or nose. This preoccupation with faces is considered crucial to social development.

“The basic tendency to pick out a face as being different from other things in

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