What’s in a face and why do we sometimes stare?

Thursday, 28 May, 2009

Our tendency to sometimes over-gape at people with unusual, deformed, or very distinct, facial features has biological and evolutionary triggers, rather than being a desire to simply stare.

When someone unfamiliar approaches you in the aisle of a grocery store, a glance at his face and its expression helps your brain to sort that person into one of two broad categories: safe or potentially unsafe. The amygdala (the brain area associated with judgment) depends upon the emotion conveyed by the person’s facial features to make that crucial call. Is he happy? Angry? Irritated? To decide, your eyes sweep over the person’s face, retrieving only parts, mainly just his nose and eyes. Your brain will then try to assemble those pieces into a configuration that you know something about.

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