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Do you always remember a face? Even if you say you never remember names, I bet you remember faces. We have such an amazing ability to scan incredible amounts of faces and register them as known or unknown in the blink of a synapse.

I read an interesting blog entry today by the artist James Gurney, written some time ago, that talked about this and it got me thinking. You get off a plane and as you come out into the arrivals hall, you are already scanning for the person who is meeting you. Your glance skims over dozens of people and you barely have to focus on each individual set of features to instantly categorize them as strangers or familiar. You can pick a single face out of a crowd, how amazing is that?!

When you consider how very alike we all are, we humans: 2 eyes, 2 ears, a nose, a mouth, the feat grows in proportion. Sure, our skin color may be different or the arch of our eyebrows or the slant of our cheekbones, and our hair styles may change from one day to the next (heck, mine may change from one MINUTE to the next!) but we have a fundamental ability to differentiate and recognize instantly whether a face we see is one we know or not. We're always scanning faces: on the street, in the restaurant, as we walk in the park and ride the bus to work. Heck, we're scanning the ones we see online, on the big screen, on TV: faces are everywhere and we recognize at once whether they belong to someone we know in some way.

Think about how many faces you know: your family, your extended family, your colleagues and ex-colleagues, your classmates from several different schools or grades. Your fellow team members, your fellow club members, your neighbors, your children's classmates and THEIR parents, people in your village or your building, people you share public transportation with every day. Now add to that the faces of celebrities, famous people both living and dead (you'd recognize Albert Einstein anywhere, wouldn't you?): athletes, entertainers, politicians, pundits, talk show hosts, authors, artists, world leaders, activists; the list goes on and on. How many people would it take you seconds to file under A for acquaintance? The answer is probably much, much larger than you think.

I have over 300 friends on Facebook and that's a TINY fraction of the faces of people I would recognize anywhere. Though I admit, if I saw them unexpectedly or out of context, it might take me a minute to register, and if the person was a child or a young adult the last time I saw them and years have passed in the meantime, it might take me even longer (and it might not work at all) but still: incredible!

This mental rolodex we constantly flip through each time we pass or meet someone: do I know you? Yes or no, it's instantaneous. And we change our own behavior instantaneously as well in that split second of mental face-matching: we greet those we know and ignore those we don't. Our body language changes to reflect our recognition: a smile for those we recognize and like; a grimace for those we recognize and dislike (perhaps). We don't even realize we're doing it! It's unconscious visual perception at its finest.

Brains are neat-o!

Coveting: this AWESOME sweater

Pop Culture Mash-up or My Childhood in under 3 minutes: My Influences
mood: impressed
music: Rice Krispie treats calling me from the kitchen. Get thee behind me, Satan!


i remember reading about this in more detail in some of my psychology courses and i always found it so fascinating! and to think, there are some people who CAN'T recognize faces because of a malfunction in the can't imagine it!

That would be so WEIRD!


And the sweater cracks me up.

Isn't that the most hilarious thing ever?? I'm SO TEMPTED! :D

From Megsie

I think brains are fascinating as well. When I was teaching, I loved learning about how brains learn. It has been a while since I took those in-services, but I remember being blown away with the awesomeness of the human brain. I have never really thought about face recognition, except when watching CSI, and they showed computer software programs that could match facial features, like finger-prints. I thought that was cool, and completely ignored the fact that our brains do this daily. Wow.

I also clicked to see the sweater.... You should get it!! :)

Re: From Megsie

Not for 50 pounds! Besides it's sold out, but O! how very tempted I am! hahahaha!! Hilarious!

Joy here :)

Did you know that there is a disorder, Prosopagnosia, that causes a person to not be able to recognize faces? I heard about this on Wisconsin public radio. I wish I could listen to it again, it was very interesting, esp. the case studies. One man was a clown because he could hide behind his 'mask' and he fell in love with a woman who had her own issues (cannot remember what! Maybe something about being shy and her guard was let down because she met him as a clown?) Anyway, as you can imagine, it'd be a difficult thing to have to deal with.


Re: Joy here :)

Thanks for the name of the condition. So bizarre that people suffer from something like that!

Re: Joy here :)

I read redpirk's post just now. LoL Oh well, great minds think alike! Haaaa Ironic to say that and this is a post about the BRAIN! ;-)

Now you've got me wanting rice krispy treat! Drat. I thought I was over that with the great vegan rice krispy experiment last Christmas.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Love those damn things!

I remember faces really well, even if I haven't seen someone in years. I'll almost always recognize them, even if they don't remember me. This happened to recently. I went into Corner Bakery for lunch and immediately recognized a guy behind the counter; it was someone I'd worked with briefly, for a total of 8 days back in 2007. (He was fired.) This kid had grown a couple of inches and gained quite a bit of weight, but it was the same guy and a glance at his name tag proved it.
I often feel I benefit from people not remembering me back. ;]
Remembering faces helps me more quikly choose which celebrities people resemble, much to my friends' amusement, lol.

"quikly" - chocolate milk adverb


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lizardek's obiter photos
lizardek's obiter photos

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I can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

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