‘We are born hungry for faces’: why are they so compelling?
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Some people suffer from prosopagnosia - or face blindness - which affects about 2% of the population.
Prosopagnosiacs can't identify people from their faces. They will carefully scan faces for details like moles, skew teeth and monobrows. When they view a face from an odd angle, they might as well look at a new face. The rest of us process faces so quickly that we have stopped noticing them.
Now that the world is reopening once more and filling with real faces, not hidden behind masks or on screens, we hold their gaze for slightly longer, perhaps because eye contact feels like a new privilege. We are aware of how quickly the world can change.
When people are conversing online, they have a phrase: "I see you." At its essence, it means "I notice your existence." Now that we can see each other again, we realise how we have missed being "seen."
We recognise people's faces instantly and without effort. We can recognise someone we know from a childhood photo. Although no one knows how this skill works, it seems to involve making a rough calculation about how the face fits together as a whole rather than comparing individual elements.
The problem with our ability to read faces is that we over-read them. As a result, our brains make quick calculations while overlooking our unconscious biases.
We are born to seek other people's faces. Babies less than 10 minutes old prefer a picture of a human face to other images. People can't resist seeing faces on tree trunks, cloud formations, pieces of toast.
What makes faces so captivating is that they remind us that we share the world with people who are like us but are also unique.
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