Face recognition might be innnate

Researchers from the Universities of Queensland and Denver have found that newborn babies preferentially look at human faces, but not human body shapes in general. This seems to suggest that face recognition might be innate in some way and might be one aspect of our genetic inheritance which promotes social interaction and allows us to develop subtle social communication skills needed for the complexity of human interaction.

A study published in 2004 suggested that this is more than just a simple preference for any face-like shape, but that newborn babies prefer attractive rather than unattractive faces. It is still unclear why this might happen, although it perhaps hints that attractive faces may seem more attractive because they more closely match a configuration passed down to us via our genes.

The excuse “Sorry honey, I was just looking to see if their face matched my genetic template of innate face shapes” is of course unlikely to get you out of trouble, regardless of your ability to describe the science behind it.

One Comment

  1. Posted January 16, 2005 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    … I believe there is an answer to the question why do babies prefer “attractive” faces, though the reall interesting question may be, how do they determine “attractive”, is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or is it somehow determined by the wiring passed down through generations of evolution.
    In a book called figments of reality, they discuss experiments that showed that humans appeared to have evolved neuronal circuitry to detect eigenfaces (mathematically average faces). They postulated that as humans evolved it was necessary to distinguish between male and females, and that the average face for a women was the most attractive, because it corresponded to what was a principal axis of a very easy to develop mathematical formula for our visual systems.
    The book describes an experiment in 992 where Alice O”toole and Thomas Vetter conducted computer analysis of 65 men & 65 womens faces. They found the average face, averaging every pixel on scale of black to white pixel value. They then compare any given face with the average face, by subtracting the pixels from the average face pixels. The most important correction terms are called eigenvectors, in this case kind of eigenfaces. They found that there really is only 1 eigenface and it represents the difference between typical male and female faces. Surprisingly they found that if you correct the average face by subtracting the eigenface, you ended up with a visibly female face, whilst adding would result in a visibly male face.
    Hang on think this over… dont you think this is a most astounding discovery? I do, clearly male/femaleness is an important feature in distinction between human faces, but more surprising is that these differences can be captured in a single one dimensional set of “differences”. In fact artificial Neural Networks can readily be trained to calculate eigenvalues, so it may likely be a simple function for human visual systems to also achieve.
    people have postulated that this strong male/female facial axia isnt accidental but results by sexual selection. In human visual systems there could well have arisen a preference for eigenfaces as a way of recognizing visual features because they are what naturally emerge from from the simplest of mathematical computations on images of human faces.If so females will prefer mates who”s faces resemble eigenfaces, and same for males. Sexual selection then drives the population towards the brains image of what the ideal face should be. Why else should there be such a strong principal axis along the male/female direction in face space.
    Essentially the eigenfunction we naturally evolved to employ helps us determine what faces we prefer (are attracted to). So babies presumably should have a feeling of “attraction to eigenfaces” faces that we all tend to agree seem more attractive. Its an evolved self reinforcing result of evolution.Now because the human visual system is naturally wired to detect these eigenfaces (attractive faces) it is likely that as a baby where there has not been time to cloud this basic capacity with other noise in thinking we gain through experience and education. Later culture makes us think of other issues such as sociability, wealth etc when feeling attraction, but for baies they are like a clean sheet of paer with respect to this, and the basic naturally evolved wiring that detects attractive faces (ideal faces), becomes more obvious.
    So to answer the question in Mindhacks blog…. Yes thats right a wiring that allows us to detect “attractive” faces has evolved and been passed through genes, interestingly the ability to feel attraction may now be explained as deriving from evolution in complicity with a simple effective mathematical function to detect visual features, by having such a function, evolution leveraged it and as a result “attraction” became something very real that we can feel driven to appreciate. This for me was an eye opener, I laways used to feel Love, attraction, beuty were not something easily explained, here we have an explanation… I find this incredible. Maybe all these amazing “feelings” which science doesnt seem able to explain, actually do come about through interaction of our physical and physical nature, in interaction with evolutionary selection. In essence we feel we have a personal attraction, but actually its an evolutionary developed artifact. It certainly dampens me little. But maybe thats because Im deep down quite mystical, and here is a very plausible explanation for how nature can create the illusion of feelings. Then what about self awareness, consciousness and free will, are they also illusions of beings created in a closed system of evolution, selecting out and driving emotional behaviours and actions from interactions of evolutionary forces with the natural physical features we had for it to work with. This is truly amazing to me. Its a mind changer. A paradigm shifter, a world view maker, the implications huge if we draw them out and extend them.


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