Have you ever met someone that you're attracted to or just a passerby and can't get his face out of your head? The image is so clear you could pick him out in a superdome full of people. And then there are others who could stand two inches from your face all day long and you still couldn't place them?
While your memory may be great or shaky, new research from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus suggests that it's the way you process faces that truly helps you remember them.
People who look at faces in a more holistic way, meaning they see the whole face first then break down the pieces, are better at recognizing others. Right-brained guys are also at an advantage since the more analytic side tends to see the "big picture" first and then place everything else in context.
The article entitled "You Look Familiar: How Malaysian Chinese Recognise Faces" led by PhD student Chrystalle B.Y. Tan, says our ability to pick a guy out of a crowd is also influenced by factors such as cultural diversity and geography.
The study, which focused on Malaysian Chinese, found that Chinese home in on the center of the face in the nose area while Westerners focus on a triangular area between the eyes and mouth. Most surprisingly, British-born Chinese used a combination of both for facial recognition, which Tan thinks is a sign that the more diverse a persons' environment, the better they are at recognizing their neighbors. "Increased familiarity with other-race faces," Tan says, "enhances their recognition abilities."
The study was supervised by face recognition expert Dr. Ian Stephen and published online in the scientific journal PLoS One.
"We think that people learn how to recognise faces from the faces that they encounter," Dr. Stephen says.
The findings unearth new questions about attraction and our ability to see and recognize some individuals and not others. Are physical attractions based on more than what you like (or think you like)? Could the ability to imprint someone's face into memory for later processing affect what we consider attractive?
One dating site is banking on it. Christina Bloom's FindYourFaceMate.com uses nine points of a client's face (eyes, ears, nose, chin, and the corners and center of the mouth) to find matches. Bloom contests that years of matchmaking have suggested that people are more attracted to those that look like them. It's no secret couples that have been together for long periods start to look alike. Was their twin potential what attracted them in the first place?
Much of the talk over Tan's research at the University of Nottingham leans toward ways increased ability to recognize faces could help people with memory problems or even Alzheimer sufferers. But, there's something in the scenery for other areas like dating.
Could it be those that aren't gaga over their twins spend less time in the mirror? Or that men with attractions that seem unmatched to outsiders are more culturally aware? More research needs to be done. Until then, the next time you walk outside notice who you see and who you don't. The result may be unforgettable.