You Look Familiar…

How Brains Recognize Faces

Every day you see hundreds of faces on social media, in person, and on TV. You’ve probably looked at someone and said to yourself, “I know that face, I just can’t remember their name.” This happens because your brain has an interesting way of recognizing faces. 

  According to studies done by Le Chang, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology, our brains don’t just see a face as one singular entity. In fact, our brains are much more complex. They actually break the face down by features and compile this information together in our memory. Fascinatingly enough, through Le Chang’s study they were able to identify that a certain area of the brain will fire off neurons when deciphering if a face is familiar or not. 

  In this study, they were able to show that different neurons fire off for people we recognize and faces that seem a bit unfamiliar. The most fascinating thing is that since our brain is so focused on individual features throughout the face, people who also have those features trigger a very similar response from our brain, almost tricking us into believing they are like that person, or potentially even are that person from a distance. 

  This information is interesting because it points to one of our major flaws as human beings, as well as the uniqueness of the technology that is our brain. We often, for better or worse, will attribute positive or negative thoughts and emotions to new people based on past experiences with others. For example, if someone new comes up to us and has facial features that look like our ex-boyfriend/girlfriend who broke our heart, we will tend to have a negative feeling bias towards that person immediately. Conversely, if we meet someone with similar features to our favorite aunt or uncle, we will likely feel an immediate kinship and appreciation for that person. 

  When it comes to recognizing faces, our brains are much more intelligent than we realize. This facial recognition is stored much more effectively and quickly than names or important details about a person and is shared between us and primates alike.

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