Let’s face it, there are a lot of humans out there. So how do we learn to tell them all apart? And what do your brain and the facial recognition software in a supercomputer have in common?
What’s happening between our ears when we recognize a long lost friend? Or worse, when we confuse somebody else for them and send them a far too enthusiastic wave? And what about when we see faces in a piece of fruit or in an arrangement of bolts on a machine? What’s happening there?
Reading faces is a central part of who we are as a species. We have expressions that span borders and cultures and it turns out, our brains even have special neurons set aside to read and recognize them! 1
Our faces act as are our calling cards to the world. They tell the story of our ancestry, speak volumes about our age, and convey our emotions. They often determine whether we are welcomed automatically into a group, or given special attention (good or bad), or can fade into the background. But what if all of these features we define ourselves with aren’t actually unique to us at all?
To help us sort out our doppelgänger probability, and explain the fascinating nitty-gritty of facial recognition, we want to show you a great video from PBS Digital Studio’s It’s Okay To Be Smart. If you haven’t checked out this channel yet (or any of the other PBS Digital Studio channels) you’re missing out on some of the best content YouTube has to offer. Seriously, its a place to get lost with your best curious self!
Okay, so the hunt for your exact lookalikes might be over, but it’s cool to know that you have your own collection of facial recognition neurons to help you navigate the world! And it’s cool to know that you do, indeed, have a unique face!
If you want to put those facial recognition neurons to the test I suggest you pop over to the Cambridge University Facial Memory Test he mentioned. We took this in our office and most of us scored pretty high! Dr. Lynda scored highest, but her other job is to look at people’s teeth and faces all day as a dentist, so that may give her an advantage.
A little face fun…
Oh, and if you want to find your historical and artistic double, go download the Google Arts and Culture App. It’s super fun to play around with, though it might not yield the most flattering results. (Please ignore my very tired face, it was a long day when I gave this a go–also, if anybody has a mascara that will last through the day please email me.)
With a face as unique as our DNA or fingerprint, it’s lovely to think about how truly diverse we are as humans. Our faces have a story to tell. They say a lot about who we are, where we came from, what we do, and how we’re feeling.
I love it when somebody says “You have your dad’s eyes” or when a new baby comes into the family and everybody starts saying “He has his grandma’s hands.” Even better, there’s something wonderfully eerie about flipping through the photos of generations past and seeing your cousins or sibling in the face of a long passed relative.
Who we are and what we look like is this marvelous roll of the dice of millennia of people. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when we look in the mirror or try to find the perfect selfie angle.
Stay beautiful & keep laughing!
Explore more fascinating facts about our brains!
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- Panko, Ben. “How Your Brain Recognizes All Those Faces.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 6 June 2017, www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-does-your-brain-recognize-faces-180963583/. Accessed 17 Jan. 2019. ↩