Taking faces for granted

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.

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‘We are born hungry for faces’: why are they so compelling?

theguardian.com

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Our brains are eager to spot human faces

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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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."

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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.

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Remembering Faces

Forgetting the face of someone we have met once seems normal compared to being able to remember the face of someone after years.

  • A Super-Recognizer is a person with a gift of remembering a face for a long time, often infinitely. These kinds of people were discovered in 2009, and make up about 2 percent of the population.
  • On the other end of the spectrum are the prosopagnosics (people with face blindness) who cannot recognize even familiar faces like their own face.

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Are You Good at Recognizing Faces?

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Smile ≠  happy

Those who smile often are thought of as more likeable, competent, approachable, friendly and attractive.

Of 19 different types of smile, only six occur when we’re having a good time. The rest happen when we’re in pain, embarrassed, uncomfortable, horrified or even miserable. A smile may mean contempt, anger or incredulity, that we’re lying or that we’ve lost.

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There are 19 types of smile but only six are for happiness

bbc.com

Eye contact is a natural part of most casual conversations. From everyday experiences, we know that we make assumptions about people's personalities based on how much they make eye contact. We can also feel left out if people don't make eye contact.

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Why meeting another's gaze is so powerful

bbc.com