“Haven’t you got nice eyes?” someone might say. Or ‘Hollywood teeth’, ‘a funny mouth’, maybe a ‘George Clooney chin’. But is it really these features you recognise first? Students were asked to spot identical faces in a fast sequence of pictures (non-identical faces can be seen on the left). But there was a twist – some of the faces, like the ones on the right, had jumbled-up features. The students’ brain activity was measured during the test. An area at the base of their brains, the fusiform face area, ‘lit up’ consistently when presented with identical normal faces. Jumbled-up faces produced different patterns of brain activity and resemblance was far more difficult to spot. No matter what the magazines tell you, our brains appear to interpret faces as whole entities rather than as collections of individual features.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.