Every day we meet dozens of people – relatives, co-workers, passers-by, usually recognizing them by their faces. This seems perfectly normal. However, the process of recognizing the face in the brain is extremely complicated.
One look at the face (we know that it is the face after 100 milliseconds!) provides a mass of information about a person, such as his or her sex, attractiveness, emotions, age, and above all identity. We don’t need too much time to determine whether the person we meet is a brother, sister, mother, wife, or lover (the latter we do not approve of).
The dynamic development of technology has led to programs that identify people by their faces. The use of artificial intelligence for this purpose opens up enormous possibilities not only for determining identity but also for detecting diseases. The goals are also different, such as control of citizens in what seems to be the most monitored city in the world – Moscow, but this is a topic for a separate discussion.
“WHO IS IT? WE KNOW EACH OTHER?”
What may seem normal, that is, that I see a man and simply know who he is, is not easy for everyone. Brad Pitt knows it. The actor does not recognize by face who he is dealing with. He admitted that he is perceived as selfish or conceited, and he simply does not remember the face, so he asks: “How do we know each other?”. This also means he stays home more often or dates less often.
A patient of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ grabbed his wife’s head and wanted to wear it like a hat. As you can see, his disorders were wider and the case itself is described in the book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by the recently deceased neurologist.
DOES THIS DISORDER HAVE A NAME?
Yes, it does. It is prosopagnosia – in short: the inability to recognize the face with the ability to recognize other objects. Rarely, as in the case of a patient with a hat, even a face is undiagnosed from another object). The defect may be congenital as a result of a genetic mutation and acquired as a result of a head injury. In both cases, it is indicated that there is an impairment, damage, or malfunction of the so-called facial field located in the spindle curve, i.e. part of the temporal lobe of the brain (so-called area 37). It is not the only center taking part in facial recognition. Interestingly, those affected by this case usually know that they are dealing with a face, or they can distinguish two faces from each other, but its overall identification, which the brain does, is not possible.
A FACE IS A WHOLE
The face consists of such elements as nose, lips, eyes, and skin. We distinguish their shape, size, color, we evaluate the proportions of the components. However, we see the face not as individual elements, but as a whole. It is suggested that such a special mechanism was developed in order to survive. The face provides a mass of information about an individual of the same species, so it is extremely important for the assessment of intentions, intelligence, mood, attractiveness. Therefore, it is more difficult for us to recognize the inverted face (the effectiveness decreases by about 30%) and newborns prefer to look at faces rather than objects.
HOW TO LIVE WITH IT?
For a human being as a social being, prosopagnosia can significantly limit social contacts through fear of the recipient’s negative opinion, e.g. by the accusation of ignorance. They are forced to compensate for data deficiencies with other strategies of recognizing people. This may be remembering specific gait, voice, body structure and posture, and manner of dress. It is pointed out that similar difficulties with facial recognition accompany persons with autism spectrum because of disorders among others in the fusiform gyrus.
- Piotr Jaśkowski, „Neuronauka poznawcza. Jak mózg tworzy umysł”, wyd. Vizja Press, Warsaw, 2009, Chapters nr 3. i 9.
- Schultz RT. Developmental deficits in social perception in autism: the role of the amygdala and fusiform face area. Int J Dev Neurosci. 2005 Apr-May;23(2-3):125-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2004.12.012. PMID: 15749240.