I have been a nanny for six years, and have worked with four children from the time they were infants. The earliest infant I started with was a mere two months old. Though it seems as if they have a very limited understanding of, well, really anything- they can already “demonstrate a visual preference for faces” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). This is just the beginning stages of categorization in infants, particularly in the fusiform face area, responsible for responding specifically to faces (Goldstein 2011, pp. 260).
When I began with Ally* she was one week shy of three months. I also cared for another eight month old girl who was dropped off at Ally’s house. On the first day, I held Ally for the first time as her mother made her way back to work. She looked at me with wide eyes, and I could tell she was studying my face. Generally, at around two months of age, “more sophisticated categorization begins to appear” (Goldstein 2011, pp. 263). Based on repeated findings using the familiarization/novelty preference procedure, Ally was likely grouping my novel, or new, face into the category of “other women” as opposed to the category of “mother” (Goldstein 2011, pp. 263).
When the eight month old’s father, John*, came to pick her up from Ally’s house, he was interested in meeting Ally. I gently handed her to John. Ally studied his face like she studied mine, and suddenly began to whimper. “Infants are more proficient at categorizing and processing female than male faces” according to Cornell (1974), Leinbach & Fagot (1993), Younger & Fearing (1999) (infantlab.fiu.edu). Ally must have felt less comfortable after studying John’s face because she was not as easily able to categorize him.
According to the article presented on infantlab.edu, by Ramsey, Langlois and Marti, one would believe that in all cases it is primitive for an infant to have an “advantage in processing female faces.” Contrastingly, in a scholarly article which appears in the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Heath, this claim is not supported. According to this article, the infantile ability to demonstrate categorization and processing of a certain gender’s faces is actually a result of who the infant is “raised primarily by” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). By these findings, the reason Ally was seemingly made uncomfortable by John’s face, but not mine, is likely because her mother had been her caregiver each day before I became her nanny at nearly three months of age. In addition to her ability to more easily categorize female faces, “infants raised primarily by a female caregiver demonstrate a preference for female faces over male faces” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). So, by these findings, Ally would also prefer to see female faces across the board than male faces.
Though there exist conflicting theories on how exactly infants develop preferences and a proficiency in discriminating one gender’s face over another, none of this would be possible without the ability for an infant’s fusiform face area to categorize faces. I think it is amazing how quickly the human mind adapts and learns to the present environment.
Ge, L. Gibson, A. Kelly, D. Pascalis, O. Quinn, P. Slater, A. Smith, M. (2005). Three-Month-Olds, but Not Newborns, Prefer Own Race Faces. (NIHMSID: NIHMS69295). Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566511/
Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Langlois, J. Marti, N. Ramsey, J. (2005). Infant Categorization of Faces: Ladies First. (Developmental Review 25 (2005) 212–246) Austin, TX. Retrieved from: http://infantlab.fiu.edu/Articles/Ramsey,%20Langlois%20et%20al%202005%20Dev%20Rev.pdf