Day#320: The brain and recognizing faces

Day#320: The brain and recognizing faces

I have always been fascinated by our ability to recognize people, and how some people are better at it than others. There is a wonderful episode on Hidden Brain by NPR. I can’t remember the name of the actual Podcast, but it’s really better that way. You should just listen to every single podcast by Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam is amazing and it’s a weird scenario where I feel like we are friends and he has never met me haha! The episode discusses how some people have this “skill” to remember faces and others are less good at this. I have certainly noticed that with my partner, he tends to forget people’s names and where he met them etc much quicker than I do. 

I also want to discuss the depth of including faces in an experience. Nancy Kanwisher discovered a very interesting thing whereby there is a specific part just outside the visual cortex which is responsible for recognizing faces. The fusiform face area, or more commonly known as FFA is described in 100 things every designer should know very eloquently see below;

“Although the visual cortex is huge and takes up significant brain resources, there is a special part of the brain outside the visual cortex whose sole purpose is to recognize faces. Identified by Nancy Kanwisher (1997), the fusiform face area (FFA) allows faces to bypass the brain’s usual interpretive channels and helps us identify them more quickly than objects. The FFA is also near the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center.”

The book also refers to an interesting study done on babies to show how they prefer human faces over other objects. Check out the video below.

All in all, how does this relate to UX, well this shows us that people like to see other people. It can create trust and allow for connection to build with a creating a human context, however it can also make an experience seem fake and gimmicky if done incorrectly. I often think of brick and mortar locations where certain types of customers really like going to the location for human contact defining that as more reliable and helpful than an App etc. As people we have mental models for everything and even speaking to a person who portrays themselves in a certain way can make us feel comfortable and relaxed. 

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