Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What makes a face look alive? Study says it's in the eyes

Date:
December 31, 2010
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
The face of a doll is clearly not human; the face of a human clearly is. Telling the difference allows us to pay attention to living things, which are capable of interacting with us. But where is the line at which a face appears to be alive? A new study finds that a face has to be quite similar to a human face to appear alive, and that the cues are mainly in the eyes.

Not quite alive looking? A face has to be quite similar to a human face in order to appear alive, and the cues are mainly in the eyes.
Credit: Image courtesy of Association for Psychological Science

The face of a doll is clearly not human; the face of a human clearly is. Telling the difference allows us to pay attention to faces that belong to living things, which are capable of interacting with us. But where is the line at which a face appears to be alive?

A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that a face has to be quite similar to a human face in order to appear alive, and that the cues are mainly in the eyes.

Several movies have tried and failed to generate lifelike animations of humans. For example, the lifeless faces in Polar Express made people uncomfortable because they tried to emulate life but didn’t get it quite right.

“There’s something fundamentally important about seeing a face and knowing that the lights are on and someone is home,” says Thalia Wheatley of Dartmouth College, who cowrote the study with graduate student Christine Looser. Humans can see faces in anything—the moon, a piece of toast, two dots and a line for a nose—but we are much more discriminating when it comes to deciding what is alive and what is not.

Wheatley and Looser set out to pin down the point at which a face starts to look alive. Looser drove around New Hampshire visiting toy stores and taking pictures of dolls’ faces. “It was fun trying to explain what we were doing to shopkeepers. I got some strange looks” says Looser, who then paired each doll face with a similar-looking human face and used morphing software to blend the two. This made a whole continuum of intermediate pictures that were part human, part doll.

Volunteers looked at each picture and decided which were human and which were dolls. Looser and Wheatley found that the tipping point, where people determined the faces to be alive, was about two-thirds of the way along the continuum, closer to the human side than to the doll side. Another experiment found that the eyes were the most important feature for determining life.

The results suggest that people scrutinize faces, particularly the eyes, for evidence that a face is alive. Objects with faces may look human, but telling the difference lets us reserve our social energies for faces that are capable of thinking, feeling, and interacting with us.

“I think we all seek connections with others,” Wheatley says. When we recognize life in a face, she says, we think, “This is a mind I can connect with.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Thalia Wheatley and Christine Looser. The Tipping Point of Animacy: How, When, and Where We Perceive Life in a Face. Psychological Science, (in press)

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "What makes a face look alive? Study says it's in the eyes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 December 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101220130939.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2010, December 31). What makes a face look alive? Study says it's in the eyes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101220130939.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "What makes a face look alive? Study says it's in the eyes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101220130939.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Cognitive Function: Is It All Downhill From Age 24?

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) A new study out of Canada says cognitive motor performance begins deteriorating around age 24. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

App Fights Jet Lag With The Power Of Math

Newsy (Apr. 13, 2014) Researchers at the University of Michigan have designed an app to fight jet lag by adjusting your body's light intake. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Treatment Gaps Endangering Cops, Mentally Ill

Treatment Gaps Endangering Cops, Mentally Ill

AP (Apr. 10, 2014) As states slash funding for mental health services, police officers are interacting more than ever with people suffering from schizophrenia and other serious disorders of the mind. The consequences can be deadly. (April 10) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Teen Drinking Rates Linked To Alcohol Mentions In Pop Music

Teen Drinking Rates Linked To Alcohol Mentions In Pop Music

Newsy (Apr. 9, 2014) A University of Pittsburgh study found pop music that mentions alcohol is linked to higher drinking rates among teens. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins