100 Things You Should Know About People: #95 — People Decide Who And What Is Alive By The Eyes

In a previous post, I talked about the special part of the brain that is for recognizing faces. New research by Christine Looser shows that “the eyes have it” when it comes to faces.

When is a face human and alive? — Christine Looser takes pictures of people and then morphs them in stages into inanimate manniquin faces. She shows the stages and has people decide when the picture is no longer a human and alive. Here is an example of the pictures she uses:


Man's face morphing from human to mannequin
When does the face stop being alive?

Her research found that there is a spot, about 75% down the continuum, where people say they are not people/alive anymore. She also found that people primarily use the eyes to decide if a picture is human and alive.

What do you think? Starting from the left, which face is “no longer alive”?

And if you like to read the research:

Looser, Christine E. & Wheatley, T. (2010). The tipping point of animacy: How, when, and where we perceive life in a face. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1854–1862.



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.