Recognition of novel faces after single exposure is enhanced during pregnancy.
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Protective mechanisms in pregnancy include Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy (NVP) (Fessler, 2002; Flaxman and Sherman, 2000), increased sensitivity to health cues (Jones et al., 2005), and increased vigilance to out-group members (Navarette, Fessler, and Eng, 2007). While common perception suggests that pregnancy results in decreased cognitive function, an adaptationist perspective might predict that some aspects of cognition would be enhanced during pregnancy if they help to protect the reproductive investment. We propose that a reallocation of cognitive resources from nonessential to critical areas engenders the cognitive decline observed in some studies. Here, we used a recognition task disguised as a health rating to determine whether pregnancy facilitates face recognition. We found that pregnant women were significantly better at recognizing faces and that this effect was particularly pronounced for own-race male faces. In human evolutionary history, and today, males present a significant threat to females. Thus, enhanced recognition of faces, and especially male faces, during pregnancy may serve a protective function.
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