Living Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

pp 1-9

Date: Latest Version

Ability to Recognize Individuals

  • Catherine F. TalbotAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology & Language Research Center, Georgia State UniversityCalifornia National Primate Research Center, University of California Email author 


Individual recognition, Individual discrimination, Face recognition


The ability to recognize individuals is a highly advantageous skill for social living species. Although not always clear, an important distinction in the literature is that between individual discrimination and individual recognition. Individual discrimination is the ability to differentiate one individual from all the rest, whereas individual recognition is the ability to differentiate each individual from every other individual and is the most precise form of recognition (Beecher 1989). This entry discusses the evidence for the recognition of conspecific individuals in nonhuman animals, specifically through the auditory and visual systems.


Studying nonhumans provides important insight into the evolution of human sociocognitive skills, such as individual recognition. As in human societies, most social species live in groups that are structured by kinship, dominance, and reproductive status ...

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