Beyond Face Value: How Our Brains Recognize Faces

Our knack for recognizing faces helps us communicate with those around us and learn about our environment. Distinct regions of the brain process the faces of others, but they have some limitations. We’re actually better at recognizing faces that are right-side up as opposed to upside-down. So, what happens when a pandemic forces us to cover up half of our faces? Research has shown that a masked face is enough of an impairment that it causes an effect similar to prosopagnosia — a condition known as “face blindness.” Face perception is the most important visual ability we have. We use face information not only to identify each other, but also to determine their emotion, gender, or even intention to some extent. Typically, when we look at another person’s face, our brain works at lightning speed to compute the distances between individual features — the nose, eyes, mouth, and other features — all at once to determine who we are looking at. Masks disrupt that holistic approach to facial recognition, giving the brain less to work with and making the identification process less efficient. As you might imagine, facial recognition software has also been disrupted by mask-wearing, increasing the rate of error by a whopping 50%.