Brain's Face Recognition Ability Has "Special Status" Likely to be Heritable

pnas[Source:  Medical X-Press]

There is seemingly no cognitive load associated with the near-instantaneous recognition of individual faces. Indeed, facial recognition is so innate and so obviously critical to human social exchange that researchers have long hypothesized that this ability has a “special status” independent of general cognitive ability, and that it is likely to be a highly heritable trait.

Many cognitive abilities—including literacy, spatial reasoning, and mathematical ability—are correlated with general cognitive ability. These traits, along with general cognitive ability, are considered to be heritable and pleiotropic—that is, influenced by a set of common genes. Recent studies involving sets of twins have suggested that face recognition could be an exception to this rule.
For instance, individual differences in face recognition ability were found to be substantially heritable, and phenotypically unrelated to other memory functions, though the sample sizes were too small to establish direct correlations between traits and specific genes. But the strong indications that face recognition is unique, heritable, and unrelated to other cognitive abilities led two researchers at King’s College London to conduct a study, reported this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involving a cohort actually large enough to assess the degree to which cognitive abilities are influenced by the same genes.
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