Faces Research

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(Image credit: Wellcome Images)

Research About Faces
compiled by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, Improbable Research staff

Faces fascinate. The range of research about faces is enormous. Here are some examples plucked from many fields.

Carrots vs. Tanning Beds
“Fruit over Sunbed: Carotenoid Skin Colouration is Found More Attractive Than Melanin Colouration,” Carmen E. Lefevre and David I. Perrett, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, vol. 68, no. 2, 2015, pp. 284-293. The authors, at Leeds University Business School and the University of St Andrews, Scotland, explain:

While both increased carotenoid colouration and increased melanin colouration enhance apparent health in Caucasian faces by increasing skin yellowness, it remains unclear, firstly, whether both pigments contribute to attractiveness judgements, secondly, whether one pigment is clearly preferred over the other, and thirdly, whether these effects depend on the sex of the face. Here, in three studies, we examine these questions.... We show, firstly, that both increased carotenoid colouration and increased melanin colouration are found attractive compared to lower levels of these pigments. Secondly, we show that carotenoid colouration is consistently preferred over melanin colouration when levels of colouration are matched.... Of the participants, 78% self-identified as white.

Detail from the study “Fruit over Sunbed: Carotenoid Skin Colouration is Found More Attractive Than Melanin Colouration.”

Dim Bulb Report
“Recognizing Faces in Bright and Dim Light,” Lisa DiNardo and David Rainey, Perceptual and Motor Skills, vol. 68, no. 3, part 1, June 1989, pp. 836-838. The authors, at John Carroll University, Ohio, explain:

32 undergraduates viewed 10 photographs of faces for 3 sec. each in a brightly or dimly illuminated room. Then they viewed 40 photographs in the same light, including the original 10, and identified each photograph as new or old. Subjects recognized significantly more photographs in the bright illumination condition.
 

The Mystery of the Wristwatches
“The Attractiveness of Nonface Averages: Implications for an Evolutionary Explanation of the Attractiveness of Average Faces,” Jamin Halberstadt and Gillian Rhodes, Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 4, July 2000, pp. 285-289. The authors, at the University of Otago, New Zealand, explain that:

Researchers have argued that humans’ attraction to average faces reflects an evolved psychological mechanism to identify high-quality mates.... The current study, however, found a strong relationship between averageness and attractiveness for dogs, wristwatches, and birds.... We tested whether a general preference for familiar stimuli can account for the attractiveness of averageness. This account was not supported for dogs or birds, but could not be ruled out for watches.

Soccer Players’ Faces and Performances
“An Examination of the Associations Between Facial Structure, Aggressive Behavior, and Performance in the 2010 World Cup Association Football Players,” Keith M. Welker, Stefan M.M. Goetz, Shyneth Galicia, Jordan Liphardt, and Justin M. Carré, Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 2014, pp. 1-13. The authors, at the University of Colorado Boulder, Wayne State University, and Nipissing University, explain:

[T]he present study investigates the relationship between FWHR [facial-width-to-height ratio] and performance among association football athletes involved in the 2010 World Cup representing 32 countries. Results indicated that across all 32 countries, the associations between FWHR and athletic performance varied depending on position. FWHR positively predicted fouls within midfielders and forwards, and goals and assists within forwards.

Face Adaptation With a Face
“Face Adaptation Depends on Seeing the Face,” Farshad Moradi, Christof Koch, and Shinsuke Shimojo, Neuron, vol. 45, 2005, pp. 169–175.

Detail from the study “Face Adaptation Without a Face.”

Face Adaptation Without a Face
“Face Adaptation Without a Face,” Avniel Singh Ghuman, Jonathan R. McDaniel, and Alex Martin, Current Biology, vol. 20, no. 1, December 17, 2009, pp. 32-36. The authors, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, report:

Here we report a novel cross-category adaptation aftereffect demonstrating that prolonged viewing of a human body without a face shifts the perceptual tuning curve for face gender and face identity.... Specifically, we asked whether the gender of a body would influence the perceived gender of a subsequently viewed face. Subjects viewed photographs of headless male or female bodies for 5 s.

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This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2017 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.


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