About Faces, in Art and in the Brain

Look at the four images above. You probably recognize each image as a face, all of the faces mean something to you, and each produces some reaction. In some cases, you clearly recognize the person portrayed, such as George Washington. In other cases, such as the abstraction by Pablo Picasso, you may understand that a face is being depicted but realize that it does not look like any real person. Faces have long been considered special as social signals, and, from prehistoric amulets to many modern painters, faces are central to art. Now, we have striking new neurologic evidence that faces are special in the brain, as well. As you view the faces on this page, just as when you look at the faces of people around you, you are engaging a part of your cerebrum that seems to be dedicated to facial perception, and there is a measurable increase in blood flow to an area in the brain’s right hemisphere called the fusiform facial area (FFA).

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