Understanding the developmental origins of face recognition has been the goal of many studies of various approaches. Contributions of experience-expectant mechanisms (early component), like perceptual narrowing, and lifetime experience (late component) to face processing remain elusive. By investigating captive chimpanzees of varying age, a rare case of a species with lifelong exposure to non-conspecific faces at distinctive levels of experience, we can disentangle developmental components in face recognition. We found an advantage in discriminating chimpanzee above human faces in young chimpanzees, reflecting a predominant contribution of an early component that drives the perceptual system towards the conspecific morphology, and an advantage for human above chimpanzee faces in old chimpanzees, reflecting a predominant late component that shapes the perceptual system along the critical dimensions of the face exposed to. We simulate the contribution of early and late components using computational modeling and mathematically describe the underlying functions.
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