Human Face Recognition Psychology


Human Face Recognition


Compared with significant progress in the genetics of foundational sensory transduction, success in the higher level perception genetics, as well as cognition, has to some great extent has been limited.  It is therefore proposed by numerous researchers that investigation of particular cognitive abilities and potential that have clearly- defined neural substrates, like face recognition, be conducted for it could possibly yield more insights into the area. In twin research for face recognition, it was established that scores correlation between monozygotic twins was far much greater than double the correlation of the dizygotic twin, evidence for the great contribution of genetic factor in the ability of face recognition (LeDoux, 2012).

Low levels of correlations between visual and verbal recognition scores and face recognition scores have frequently pointed out that the ability of face recognition itself together with its genetic basis is greatly attributable to mechanisms that are face-specific in nature. The study area of human cognitive has been of great interest to many scholars especially medics who are trying to come up with new research findings day by day.

Technology has not been left behind in this field; a key objective of researchers that rely on computer vision has been to establish systems for enabling automated face recognition, which can work with equivalence to human beings and with time overtake human performance. Prior studies on social psychology have shown that personal significance that is newly assigned have potential of modulating high- level cognitive processes like social and memory evaluation or analysis, with self and other similar information that is processed in what is seen as a dissociated prefrontal mechanism.

This paper presents the impact of individual’s significance towards perception and the neural network which does support the effect. An associative learning procedure is employed where a neutral being like a person’s face if tagged with a label, and participants are required to link or associate three shapes that are neutral with labels for their close friends, themselves or an unfamiliar. Out of drive by the behavior, participants mostly tagged a neutral shape.


Recognizing other people is no doubt a vital social skill, but according to cognitive psychologists, not everyone is equally good at i (LeDoux, 2012). Even today, researchers are working day and night to come up with a proper understanding of the mechanisms that are often involved in the face region of the human brain, commonly called the ‘fusiform gyrus.’ Face perception is commonly used to refer to some ones’ understanding as well as their interpretation of the face, with particular emphasis being the human brain and especially with reference to the processing of associated information in the brain.

Human face proportions and expressions are considered important in identifying the origin, health qualities, some social information and emotional tendencies within an individual’s life (Friesen & Kingstone, 2008). From the time of birth, the face remains a key part as far as the social interaction of an individual is concerned.  We come across a multitude of people on our daily businesses: the classmates in campus, the philosophy lecturer, the nice waiter in the coffee bar around the corner, the bus attendant, the city council workers, name them. For someone without the ability to recognize faces at a glance, it becomes so impossible to differentiate between people.

It is good to note that this attribute is not endowed to human beings only as monkeys and some other wild animals that have relatively high intelligent quotient. For instance, the study has shown that monkeys have a remarkable ability to distinguish faces of members of a group as well as extracting relevant information concerning the individual directly by reading the face. This research paper is about human face recognition which is all about identification of people and other shapes by a way of knowledge and understanding which develops once a child is born.

Cognitive processes begin to develop once a child is conceived in the mother’s womb and the process continues with much of the developmental stages occurring from the period after birth. Different senses are involved in the cognitive processes, which all work towards recognition of someone. It is obvious that the mental capacity determines the ability of cognitive process, and as such children have low cognition and vise versa.

Literature review

By use of Thatcher illusion, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics scientists in Germany carried out an examination of how macaque monkeys and people recognize faces and how the information is processed in their brains (LeDoux, 2012). It was found out from the research that both species have the capability to perceive their kin faces immediately, with the faces of the other species being processed differently. From long ago, human beings are accustomed to other humans’ faces: the bushy eyebrows, the long nose, the swingy lips, the reddish white eyes or the leafy ears (Friesen & Kingstone, 2008).

People slowly learn to recognize such small differences that often contribute to the appearance of someone. The same case also applies to monkeys. They get to learn the distinguishing features of their fellow monkeys which enable them to recognize each other.  They can, by this, grasp the identity which helps them recognize their peers or group members quickly and without much struggle (Friesen & Kingstone, 2008). It is noted that, however, in both macaque monkeys and humans, the principle only operates for into individuals of the same nature.

Although recognition of conspecific faces is through the help of holistic processing, the different parts and elements which include the mouth, eyes, ears, and nose and even to larger extent facial proportions are still equally important. Although we tend to look into the eyes first, our grasp which is entirely due to neural functions gives us the identity of the whole picture (Baron-Cohen, 2005). This is the description of the processing mechanisms that result in facial recognition. By using what they called Thatcher Illusion, these scientists undertook a thorough examination of recognition of humans and macaque monkeys.

Local alterations in facial characteristics are hardly noticeable when the face is looking upside down, but the neural brain tends to strikingly have more grasping power when the face is right up. In their research, the faces whose mouths, eyes and noses were rotated at an angle of 180% looked grotesque, but this would happen only if they were observed from right side up.

According to Christian Wallraven who is among the greatest scientists and researchers involved in the exercise, upside- down the distinction between a ‘traceried’ and a normal face is so hard to recognize.  This effect, according to Christian, can be said to be resulting from the absence of capabilities for processing features that are locally rotated when there is turning off the face upside down. The mechanisms that permit holistic processing only allow someone to identify and recognize just fine changes in the structure and arrangement of the distinct facial parts which include the nose, ears, mouth, eyebrows, lips, etc. the logic, in this case, is that the ordinary mechanisms of recognition are not functional with either foreign species faces or inverted faces (Ellis, 2012).

It was discovered by the group of scientists in the Germany institute that this Thatcher illusion in so-called macaque monkeys could only work for the faces of their respective conspecifics, while no special attention was paid to the extremely grotesque faces of humans. Likewise, it behaved in a similar manner for human faces for which the monkey faces that were manipulated kept in the state of inconspicuous.

Right from birth, children have facial processing capacities that are quite underdeveloped and start to develop gradually. Infants those are as young as one week of age have the capability to mimic the facial expressions of a grown-up person, displaying their ability to note details such as eye and mouth shape and also to exercise moving their own muscle in a manner which produces patterns of similar manner on their faces. However, even with all this ability, newly born babies do not have awareness of the emotional contents that are encoded within such facial expressions (Ellis, 2012). Five to six-month-old babies when presented with scenarios of an image of a person making a sad expression and another one making a fearful expression react almost the same and pay the same kind of attention and usually exhibit similar occasion related potentials in each.

However, when the same experiment is repeated this time using an 8 months old child, they tend to pay more attention to the fearful face with their occasion related potentials towards the scared face showing more initial negative aspect than the sad face. This result shows a higher attentional as well as cognitive focus to fear which is a reflection of the threat salient emotion nature. The facial recognition is of great importance towards study and analysis of neurological mechanisms which an individual comes across on their day to day interactions.

According to Jeffrey and Rhodes, faces of human beings usually convey and contain a lot of wealth of information which we normally use in guiding our daily social interactions. For instance, emotions are said to play an important role in people’s social interactions. The perception of negative or positive emotion on someones face to some great extent determines how such people will end up perceiving and processing that given face (Baron-Cohen, 2005). A face which is perceived to have some negative emotion is said to be processed in a manner that is less holistic unlike that which displays positive emotions.

It is said that the face recognition ability is apparently equal in early childhood. By the time a child reaches the age of five, the neurological mechanisms which are charged with the responsibility of facial recognition and interpretation are already present. Previous researches by scholars in this field have established that there is a similarity in the way both children and adults do process faces, except only that adults do process their faces in a more efficient manner. The reason could be due to the fact that cognitive functioning and memory are more improved in adults.

Someones’ ability to have tolerance towards degradation tends to increase proportionately with familiarity. In attempts to discover the mechanisms that underlie the ability of human being to recognize and even interpret faces that are highly degraded, one might wonder if this could be a result of some general purpose processes of compensatory, that is, some sort of biological instantiation of ‘super-resolution’ model-free (Morton & Johnson, 2011). However, the discussion looks to be more complicated. One’s capacity and ability in handling degradations tend to go up dramatically as the amount of familiarity also goes up. Bruce, a researcher, demonstrated the poor performance of observers on the role of trying to match two various photos of someone who was unfamiliar.

According to Burton, recognition performance of observers with surveillance video of low- quality is by far much better in a situation where the photographed individuals are familiar colleagues, compared to those with whom there has been an infrequent interaction with the observers (Morton & Johnson, 2011). Moreover, gait information and body structure are of less usefulness in recognition than facial information. Recognition performance differs only slightly upon obscuring of the body or gait but is impacted dramatically by the hiding of the face. It does not appear that this nature of skill can be obtained by general experience; in fact, even police officers using forensic mechanisms cannot trace an individual correctly in this manner except when they are familiar with the targeted person.

The element of ethnicity has not been left out in the discussion of facial recognition.  It is in 1914 that a study of variation in facial recognition between own versus other-race was first carried out. In this research, it was realized that people have a tendency to perceive individuals of other races than their own to appear similar (Morton & Johnson, 2011). Other factors held constant, people of a particular race are differentiable from each other depending on our contact, to our familiarity with the given race in totality. Therefore, to uninitiated Africans, all Asiatic look alike and to Americans, all Chinese look alike. This phenomenon is referred to as cross-race effect, other- race effect, own- race effect or owns race bias.


According to the literature review, the effect of other- race is more profound among White subjects compared with African American subjects. However, other studies have found contradicting results. Moreover, it is suggested that the effect of own- race is linked to high ability to extract information relating to the spatial relationships between various features. According to Richard Ferraro, facial identification is an example of a neuropsychological action which can be used in assessing cognitive abilities which are salient within American- African culture.

Ekman and Friesen found that people from Ethiopia and New Guinea had a better cognitive emotion of one- race because they had spent quite much time with the Whites; hence it is possible to overcome the one race effect. It has also been established from the literature review that facial recognition keeps growing and is a function of familiarity. As such, a young child has very little facial identification compared with an adult.

This is because they do not have much experience with other people for familiarity purpose. Once a child is born, it starts learning from the nurse about facial expressions. However, the mode in which both young children and adults process and carry out facial interpretations by their neurons is quite similar, only that for adults it is more efficient as a result of brain development improvement. Facial processing mechanisms tend to be more effective when the shape being observed is in an upright position.

Research has established that human faces that are upside down are hardly recognizable because the mechanisms are only meant to understand upside images. Faces can often be recognized by very minimal information (Ellis, 2012). It has been noted from the literature review that just one feature like the nose, eyes, and notably the ears could be enough for identification of many popular faces. The suggestion made is that, when taken in isolation, the single features are capable of enabling recognition.


Facial recognition is an interesting subject and of great importance since it is about how we get to identify others and this largely determines our social interactions with other people (Ellis, 2012). This research proposal has taken an overview of the subject of facial recognition and given a wide coverage of literature review relating the same. Improvement of understanding of human cognitive processes can be facilitated by computational models in today’s technology. It is suggested that further research be conducted especially on the area own- race effect and how to reduce it, as well as studying to either validate or invalidate the effect.


Baron-Cohen, S. (2005): The eye direction detector (EDD) and the shared attention mechanism (SAM): Two cases for evolutionary psychology. In: Moore C, Dunham PJ, editors. Joint Attention: Its Origins and Role in Development. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 41–59.

Chan, Y., Lin, S.H., & Kung, S.Y. (2008). “Video Indexing and Retrieval”, Multimedia Technology for Applications, Sheu and Ismail editors. IEEE Press.

Clark, V.P, Keil K, Maisog, J.M, Courtney, S.M, Ungerleider, L.G, & Haxby, J.V. (2006). Functional magnetic resonance imaging of human visual cortex during face matching: a comparison with positron emission tomography. Neuroimage 4:1–15.

Dempster, A.P., Laird, N.M., & Rubin, D.B., (2012). “Maximum Likelihood from Incomplete Data via the EM Algorithm”, Journal of Royal Statistics Society, B39, pp.1-38, 1976.

Ellis, A.W. (2012). Cognitive mechanisms of face processing. Phil Trans, R Soc Lond B 335:113–119.

Friesen, C.K, & Kingstone, A. (2008): The eyes have it! Reflexive orienting is triggered by nonpredictive gaze. Psychon Bull. Rev 5:490–495.

George, N, Dolan, R.J, Fink, G.R, Baylis, G.C, Russell. C, & Driver, J. (2009). Contrast polarity and face recognition in the human fusiform gyrus. Nat Neurosci 2:574–580.

LeDoux, J. (2012). Emotion and the amygdala. In: Aggleton J, editor. The Amygdala: Neurobiological Aspects of Emotion, Memory, and Mental Dysfunction. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 339–351.

Morton, J, & Johnson, M. (2011). CONSPEC and CAN LEARN A two-process theory of infant face recognition. Psychol Rev 98:164–181.

Perrett, D, & Mistlin, A. (2010). Perception of facial characteristics by monkeys. In: Stebbins W, Berkley M, editors. Comparative Perception, Vol 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 187–215.

Phillips, M.L, Young, A.W, Senior, C., Brammer, M, Andrew, C, Calder AJ, et al. (2007). A specific neural substrate for perceiving facial expressions of disgust. Nature 389:495–498.

Thorpe, S.J, Rolls, E.T, & Maddison, S. (2003). Neuronal activity in the orbitofrontal cortex of the behaving monkey. Exp Brain Res 49:93–115.



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