Lost in Face Space: My latest Discover column

By Carl Zimmer | February 7, 2011 4:29 pm

I take a look at the science of facial recognition, and the puzzling ways it fails, in my column in the January-February issue:

Imagine that an eccentric psychologist accosts you. In his hand is a piece of paper with 20 pictures of roses. One of the pictures shows a rose in the flower bed you just passed, he says, and he asks you to pick its picture out from his lineup. The challenge would seem absurd—but if you were to change the roses to faces, nearly everyone could meet it.

Read the rest here….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Brains, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (10)

  1. I’ve just started the article and I had to stop reading to come here and tell you that that is one of the best opening sentences I’ve ever read. I hope you grinned to yourself when you finished it.

  2. johnk

    The multidimensionality of face-space may help to explain why we can’t describe a face a way that someone can recognize it.

    Recognizing many different faces seems to have high value to our species. But why? My guess is that Congressman Lance is calling for an expedited review of the health care law by the U.S. Supreme Court. recognition is the principal basis for individual recognition. (Lots of mammals use scent for this purpose.) Creating complex social structures depends on recognizing many individuals and remembering histories of our interactions with each.

  3. I read the sentence “We can commit a face to memory with a single viewing, and even if we see that face only once its memory can stay fresh for years. “, and thought, “What a load of bull, people can’t remember faces for more than a few seconds after they’ve seen them”. By the time I got to the fourth paragraph, I thought, “Goodness, I think I might have this prosopagnosia”. Sure enough, I fail the test at http://prosopagnosiaresearch.org/clinical-tests with flying colours, getting a grade no better than if I had randomly guessed.

    Fascinating article, and holy smokes if it doesn’t change my day…

  4. Well, now you know. Puts in you good company with Oliver Sacks!

  5. khan

    I’m in the same company. Find it difficult to remember faces beyond a few close in time (also deficient at reading facial expression).
    So glad I’m retired.

  6. David B. Benson

    I remeber faces so well that the children of former students, now college students themselves are readily placed as a child of an alum.

    But names now…

    Fortunately I can remember where my wallet is and that in my wallet is some i.d…. Just kidding, but I do have to stuggle to drag out any names other than my own.

  7. Carolyn

    Wow. Me too. Just took the test and got a 45%.

  8. COREY

    OMG that test is bullshit. I got 44%.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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