Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Face Recognition/ Face Blindness

Have you ever wondered how we are able to remember so many different human faces? Isn't it amazing that we can remember and distinguish between hundreds of faces but we can't do that for example with flowers?
Since I am very interested in neurobiology I did some research on different memory functions of the brain such as episodic memory etc and I stumbled across this article in the Discover Magazine on face recognition/ face memory. It's a little bit off topic but I thought it was really interesting!

It turns out that not all people have the ability to recognize faces! Face blindness or also called Prosopagnosia affects an estimated 2% of Americans and can result from brain injury or it can be hereditary. According to this article we don't store a photographic image of a face but rather the information (important features of the human face such as the ratio of distances between eyes and mouth) is transformed so that it encodes a point in the so called "face space". It is basically a multidimensional map and researchers assume that it is centered on the "perfectly average face". The less a face looks average, the more distanced it is in face space. It is pretty smart for the brain to reduce these tons of information about a face to a point in face space because a point is very compact information that doesn't take a lot of space to store!
I thought that was really neat and this research on face recognition might even have some applications in the future, if we figure out exactly how face recognition works we can have computers that recognize faces as easily as most of us do!

So here is the article:
http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jan-feb/19-brain-seeing-person-behind-the-face

1 comment:

John Latto said...

That's a really interesting article. I'm interested in this topic because I definitely suffer from this problem. I tend to recognize people by non-facial cues, for example in many cases someone has to start speaking before I know who they are. I'm good with voices though.

I'm especially bad if I see people out of context - if someone says hello in Trader Joes or Costco (and someone always says hello in those places) I'm often clueless who it was whereas if it was on campus then I might recognize them simply by their proximity to a particular building. Sad but true. The list of people I've failed to recognize is impressive and includes my sister and even my wife (but don't tell her I think I got away with it both times).

I should have a t-shirt made - 'It's not personal, I have prosopagnosia.'