What Caricatures Can Teach Us About Facial Recognition
Our brains are incredibly agile machines, and it’s hard to think of anything they do more efficiently than recognize faces. Just hours after birth, the eyes of newborns are drawn to facelike patterns. An adult brain knows it’s seeing a face within 100 milliseconds, and it takes just over a second to realize that two different pictures of a face, even if they’re lit or rotated in very different ways, belong to the same person. Neuroscientists now believe that there may be a specific region of the brain, on the fusiform gyrus of the temporal lobe, dedicated to facial recognition.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration of our gift for recognition is the magic of caricature—the fact that the sparest cartoon of a familiar face, even a single line dashed off in two seconds, can be identified by our brains in an instant. It’s often said that a good caricature looks more like a person than the person himself. As it happens, this notion, counterintuitive though it may sound, is actually supported by research. In the field of vision science, there’s even a term for this seeming paradox—the caricature effect—a phrase that hints at how our brains misperceive faces as much as perceive them. (more)