How do humans detect faces?

Ajdovska deklica - a natural rock formation on Mount Prisojnik in Slovenia that looks like the face of a young woman
"Ajdovska deklica - viewed from Erjavčeva koča." by Dancing Philosopher Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Dr Markus Bindemann is investigating a process neglected by psychologists for over 30 years

Dr Markus Bindemann, Reader in Psychology, is conducting a project to investigate the phenomenon of face detection.

Although the ability to detect a face is a fundamental part of human perception and something we all take for granted, the mental processes that underpin this task remain a puzzle. Comparatively little work has been done on the subject by psychologists. Instead the bulk of research has been carried out by computer scientists attempting to model the process.

Working in collaboration with Dr Rob Jenkins from the University of York, Markus aims to test the theory that we learn to detect faces by developing a template in our memory based on the many different faces we have seen. This template captures commonalities across people by generating a statistical summary of faces in the form of a perceptual average.

The research will address questions such as:

  • Does a template of a face average provide a viable model of human face detection?
  • Is there one template for face detection or distinct templates for different face types?

The findings will both provide insight into human performance and inform the development of automatic face detection systems.

The project, entitled ‘Face Detection by Humans’, runs from October 2019 to September 2022 and is funded by a grant of £249,000 from the Leverhulme Trust.

Small pictures of a selection of different faces next to a larger picture of a face that represents an average of these images
An average image representing 50 faces varying by age, sex and ethnicity. Could a template like this underpin human face detection?
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