Images of faces: a cautionary note

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Posted by Steve Price on February 11, 1999 at 08:30:43:

Dear Friends,

Many of these images of faces seem much too face-like to be accidental. However, others may very well be unintentional; that is, the weaver may not have had a face in mind when drawing them.

Our brains are wired to pay particular attention to faces and to easily pick out certain elements and interpret them as face representations. For a simple demonstration familiar to most websurfers, here's a small collection of keyboard characters in which most see sideways faces:

:-) :-0 :-(

Obviously, something doesn't have to be very realistic or detailed to not only look face-like, but to even look like a face with a particular expression on it.

This is just a specific instance of a well known perceptual phenomenon: animals (including humans) are wired in such a way that immediate recognition of certain significant things is facilitated by the recognition requiring only a small set of characteristics of that thing. Birds can be kept off some structures just by hanging large balls with big circles painted on them, which the birds evidently interpret as predator's eyes. A prominent circle on an object larger than the bird is all it takes for the bird to perceive "predator".

Just something to bear in mind when we see faces everywhere.

Steve Price

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