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Understanding the how humans recognize faces may lead to breakthrough facial recognition technologies

Many don’t think much about the faces of people we know and love. Our brain rapidly identifies people as known or unknown to us without much conscious effort. Exactly how the human brain is able to recognize faces is the subject of much debate.

There is much more reason to determine exactly how the brain can identify faces than simply satisfying a medical curiosity or settling a scholarly debate. Governmental agencies are keen to develop software that can more swiftly and accurately locate wanted individuals and terrorists by picking them from a crowded airport for example by facial features alone.

The key to gaining the understanding we need to build better facial recognition technology could be to determine how the human brain is able to identify faces. Facial recognition is described by as one of the hottest realms in psychology and neural science.

Professor of vision and computational neuroscience at MIT Pawan Sinha told, "It's very controversial: How do we see a face?" Sinha says one of the hottest topics of debate "is whether we learn to recognize faces or whether we come prewired with dedicated brainware for recognizing faces. The disagreement is deep - and rather sharp."

There are two camps with one taking the position that we learn to recognize faces and the other asserting that the brain comes pre-wired to recognize faces. Researchers in the field have performed experiments that have offered interesting insight into how people look at faces.

Michael J. Tarr of Brown University has found that the face of males has a more reddish tone and that female faces have more green. Why the color differences in the faces of men and women? Tarr says that it could be that women need slightly different skin coloration to be able to absorb ultraviolet light for synthesizing vitamin B needed during lactation and for bone development.

Tarr adds, "The coloration is subtle, but actual - not just a trick of the mind or matter of perception. Men are redder, on average; women greener. Color information is very robust."

Other researchers from the University of California in San Diego have performed experiments that suggest the nose is a sort of main navigational focus used to help recognize a face. The researchers found during testing that people focus first on the nose, then look to the left of it and then back to the center before deciding if they recognize a face. Yet more research suggests that the eyebrows may be as important as the eyes in facial recognition. Sinha says, "Put on glasses with thick lenses or strange frames, and people will still recognize you. But shaving eyebrows is acutely disruptive to recognition."

Researcher Nancy Kanwisher from MIT believes that the human brain has a sweet spot called the fusiform face area that has developed to recognize faces. She believes that the ability to recognize faces comes as easily as breathing for people.

Other scientists researching facial recognition disagree with Kanwisher. They believe that facial recognition is an acquired skill and that clues to breakthroughs in facial recognition can be found by studying conditions that hamper recognition.

These scientists are studying stroke victims and autistic individuals, both conditions are known to make it difficult for sufferers to recognize faces. If the researchers are able to identify how humans recognize faces, it could usher in a new era in facial recognition technology.

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The Brain
By Gzus666 on 1/20/2009 11:15:34 AM , Rating: 2
I actually saw a good documentary on this subject a few months ago, I'm not sure, but I believe it was called The Brain. It was technically about the brain in general, but this came up. They showed a man who could not recognize faces thanks to a brain injury. He saw the face, but the recognition didn't work. He couldn't even draw faces he had just seen.

He couldn't identify famous faces or anything. It was quite strange as they went into the reasons why and the explanations of how he saw faces. Apparently when he looked at a face, he saw the individual parts, but could not piece them together as a face. The guy couldn't even recognize his own kids and wife. Interesting indeed as it seems the way machines do it is quite similar to the way we do it, looks like we aren't so different after all.

RE: The Brain
By Reclaimer77 on 1/20/09, Rating: -1
RE: The Brain
By Gzus666 on 1/20/2009 11:30:19 AM , Rating: 5
I believe that is known as man syndrome. As a fellow sufferer, I feel your pain/excitement. Other symptoms of man syndrome may include: Staring at ass, zoning out when women talk to you, scratching things in public, being able to drive, having the ability to use a map and being able to watch train wrecks non-stop and still be excited for every one.

RE: The Brain
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 1/20/2009 12:13:42 PM , Rating: 5
Don't forget. Going to a concert with 40,000 plus people and looking into the audience and somehow always noticing the girl taking off her top for a quick flash. Always amazed me how I seem to always catch something like that out of the corner of my eye, even from 40 yards away surrounded by thousands of people in a small area… My brain just seems to set off an alarm saying, “Girl going topless, 35 yard to the north, 17 people to the left of your line of sight…” and bam there she is.

RE: The Brain
By theendofallsongs on 1/20/2009 11:33:24 PM , Rating: 2
i'm too busy staring at tits.
I suggest you buy a milk cow then.

RE: The Brain
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 1/20/2009 12:02:17 PM , Rating: 2
Errr can you draw faces you've just seen? I know I can not. I'm not that good at art.

My question would be, how did he get married? I mean if I get my girlfriends name wrong once it's like world war III. So, if he can not recongnize his wife, he has to get her name wrong all the time, or does she where a name tag??

RE: The Brain
By Gzus666 on 1/20/2009 12:16:53 PM , Rating: 2
If I was better at drawing, I'm sure I could, cause I can visualize faces I just saw.

He got married before the accident. He recognizes voices and stuff, just not the face.

RE: The Brain
By Schrag4 on 1/20/2009 12:18:20 PM , Rating: 2
I don't actually know any of the details, but since it was an injury that caused the condition, he might have been married before the injury. And as far as recognizing his wife, he probably can tell by her voice, smell, etc.

These are about the best faces I can 'draw':
:-) :-( :-| :-D :-]

RE: The Brain
By Solandri on 1/20/2009 3:37:58 PM , Rating: 2
Errr can you draw faces you've just seen? I know I can not. I'm not that good at art.

This is normal. Your brain works better at pattern matching than at recall. It's why multiple choice is so much easier, moreso than the limited options would suggest. Instead of having to recall the answer from scratch, the multiple choices let you pattern match against your memory to see which one best fits what you recall as the answer.

This gets people into trouble when you do things like police lineups. Since you're pattern matching instead of recalling, someone who looks similar to the real criminal may trigger your recognition circuits even though he's not the guy.

RE: The Brain
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 1/20/2009 6:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks, that is cool to know and makes a lot of sense.... but I was referring to my art skills sucking butt at drawing faces. I can draw a mountain and some animals just fine however, my faces look like someone was hit with a baseball bat or something... :)

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