E-mails and comments welcome from teachers and learners of all ages.  
July 29, 2004
Seeing faces

Faces.jpgI have already linked from elsewhere to this piece by Bunny Smedley, about the National Gallery exhibition Making Faces. On the right: one of the faces they are selling the exhibition with.

Here's how Bunny's piece starts:

I have recently taken to reading lots of books about birth and early childhood development well, it makes a change from worrying about whether painting's dead, doesn't it? Thus it is that I have learned more over the past month or so than I ever wished to know about the way in which people respond to each other's faces.

A newborn baby, apparently, has an absolutely innate interest in the human face not only his mother's face, either, although within days he can recognise this, but in all human faces. The part of his brain responsible for this achievement develops early, long before birth. Stranger still, within the first week or two he is drawn not only to actual human faces, but to man-made images of the human face, with black-and-white, full-face line-drawings being the preferred media. This fascination is not, however, you may be pleased to learn, primarily aesthetic in motivation. Babies, it turns out, are also amazingly adept both at 'reading' emotion affection, anger, boredom, amusement in other people's faces, and at mirroring what they find there. It's part of the way in which we learn to relate to each other to function socially thorough the course of our lives. One can think of all sorts of reasons why the development of these abilities should have been smart moves in evolutionary terms. That, however, need not detain us. The point is simply that curiosity about our fellow creatures' faces is entirely natural, instinctive and universal. There is, put starkly, nothing we'd rather see, and nothing we are better at seeing.

All of which meshes nicely with the compulsion so many of us feel to take a look at the face of all brand new babies that cross our paths. That way, babies get a glimpse of lots of different faces.

Brand new members of other species are very easily fooled into responding to faked up versions of the signals which excite them. A red blob on a bit of paper, for example, has the same effect as the red blob on mum's beak. That kind of thing. Presumably someone has tried to discover what signals are sufficient to trigger the face response in new humans. Is a real human face needed, or will a badly drawn face on a bit of cardboard suffice? A lot hinges on this, I feel. If humans need "real" face to face contact to get them stirred up, then the educational consequences will be profoundly different to if they will get stirred up by a mere fake face on a screen. Anyone know the answer to that, or where to look for an answer? Maybe new babies can be fooled like this but older ones can't. Don't know, but would very much like to.

Television and children's books would suggest that it doesn't take much to make a child see a face.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:04 PM
Category: How the human mind works
[0]
Comments

I have a book called "Baby monthly" by Carol Pope - unfortunately, although it has many references in the back, it does not reference each bit of research it describes.

Anyway, it has a lot of face-recognition stuff in it: newborn babies prefer to look at their mothers' faces, or ones similar, than at very different ones; babies prefer to look at faces with all the features included, and arranged properly, than missing or mixed-up; etc.

They measure these preferences by getting the babies to suck on something - apparently they learn very quickly to suck harder for pictures they prefer!

Haven't read about this stuff for ages, but it is fascinating.

Comment by: Alison on July 29, 2004 10:38 PM

"one of the faces they are selling the exhibition with."
It's by the artist Julian Opie

I always get annoyed when artists are not credited. For instance the newpaper articles with the sculpture in the new Stock exchange which credit the photographer of the sculpture but not the artist who made it! eg reuters

Comment by: hermitcrab on August 1, 2004 12:39 PM

"one of the faces they are selling the exhibition with."
It's by the artist Julian Opie

I always get annoyed when artists are not credited. For instance the newpaper articles with the sculpture in the new Stock exchange which credit the photographer of the sculpture but not the artist who made it! eg Guardian

Comment by: hermitcrab on August 1, 2004 12:40 PM
Post a comment





    







    •