100 Things You Should Know About People: #92 — There Is A Brain Area Dedicated To Perceiving Faces

Woman's face
Photo Credit: Katie Ricard

You are walking down a busy street in a large city and suddenly you see the face of one of your close relatives. Even if you were not expecting to see this person, and even if there are dozens, or even hundreds of people in your visual field, you will immediately recognize this as your (brother mother, sister, cousin). Not only will you recognize them immediately, you will also have an accompanying emotional response (love, hate, fear etc).

Fusiform face area — Although the visual cortex is huge and takes up a large amount of brain resources, there is a special part of the brain outside of the visual cortex whose role it is to recognize faces. It’s called the fusiform face area, or FFA (Kanwisher, 1997). This special part of the brain is also near the amygdala, which is the emotional center of the brain. This means that faces grab attention, are recognized quickly, and bypass the usual brain interpreting channels.

What do you think? Do you find you react to faces at websites? Do they grab your attention?

If you like to read the research:

Kanwisher, N., McDermott J., Chun, M. (1997). The fusiform face area: a module in human extrastriate cortex specialized for face perception. Journal of  Neuroscience, 17(11), 4302–4311.



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5 Replies to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #92 — There Is A Brain Area Dedicated To Perceiving Faces”

  1. I’m going to be sad when this “100 things” series is over. I’ve enjoyed reading them and using the little psychological tidbits in my life. You should make it “1000 things you should know about people.” Because (as I’m sure you’re aware…) people LOVE lists :)

  2. Yep, totally agree, though for me sometimes it depends on the face :D

    More, I think this also applies to mascots or any other similar cartoon-style drawn characters – they’re sooo memorable.

    That’s why my next project’s logo has a nice mascot in it :)

  3. Hello Susan

    Must say i love to read your blog! Human brain is strange :) I just participated on your webcast the other day on persuasion, emotions and trust factors. I have a question about faces and how we see and perceive the emotional expressions. Currently I’m doing a facebook page on financial consulting, education, etc. Now i’m faced with the dilemma on what emotional expression should I use for the welcome tab. If we do try to give people financial stability, trust, happiness, we do try also to solve problems, help them not to worry, or to fear no more. What is the best solution? To try to use happiness as a result of our product, or worry as a problem we will solve. If I would put images on my web site, i Guess i would go for a result (happy faces), but on Facebook welcome tab, people do have to click “like”. So with text that is outlining the danger and instability of today’s financial markets together with picture of people which face that shows worry and concern will I get better results as with people that are happy?
    Thanks for your thoughts! :)

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