- Most of us can identify a familiar face in a mere fraction of a second, even though all faces are made up of similar features in roughly the same configuration. We are also adept at reading facial expressions to intuit a person’s mood and at extracting information about an individual’s sex, age and direction of gaze.
- Neuroscientists have long debated the biological basis for human face perception. Because this skill is so critical to communication, many researchers believe that specialized neural hardware has evolved to detect faces—and indeed, face-specific neurons have been found in both human and monkey brains.
- Many psychologists propose that a unique type of visual processing occurs in the “face place” in the brain. Others believe that face-detecting neurons process faces in the same way other brain neurons distinguish objects and that face cells are more discriminating because of people’s greater experience with faces.
Dashing for a train in a busy station at rush hour, I picked out a face in the crowd—the familiar configuration of features, the laugh lines and the mole above the right eye. I immediately knew the distinctive visage belonged to my former classmate, Robert.
Most of us are highly skilled at recognizing faces, even though they all have similar features arranged in roughly the same configuration: two eyes separated by a standard-issue nose, along with a mouth, chin and cheeks. We are similarly adept at reading facial expressions to intuit a person’s mood and at extracting information about an individual’s sex, age and direction of gaze. We do this reading within a fraction of a second, an ability that is critically important for normal social interactions.
This article was originally published with the title A Face in the Crowd.