Thursday, January 06, 2011

Is the face alive? - the eyes tell us.

Looser and Wheatley do a nice study, reported in Psychological Science, on how we determine whether a face is dead or alive. A review of the work in Science Now has some nice videos of morphing faces along a gradient of animacy. The authors paired doll faces with a similar-looking human faces and used morphing software to blend the two, ending up with a spectrum of pictures that ranged from fully human to part human-part doll to purely doll. Volunteers consistently looked mainly at the eyes, and selected as the dividing point those faces that were about two-thirds along the continuum, closer to the human end. They also attributed the capability of thought to those faces.


  1. I wonder how this is related to the "Uncanny Valley" effect?

  2. It seems reasonable that we might be taking about the same thing as the Uncanny Valley effect (mentioned in previous post

    The article cited there, open access, has further references

  3. A fine illustration can be found in the Canadian film animating a puppet with real eyes--Madame Tutli Putli

  4. Thanks Deric, that's a really good paper.

    I think this is by far the best and most succinct explanation I have heard of the uncanny valley effect:

    "Importantly, it is not the increased realism that elicits the uncanny valley effect, but rather that the increased realism lowers the tolerance for abnormalities"

    Very tightly written.

    The question then is why is it that the eyes are important either for a) increasing perceived realism or b) scrutinized more heavily for "abnormalities"

    Just off the cuff, I think it may have to do with emotion detection and facial expressions. The work of Dr. Paul Ekman seems like it might have some bearing here, as he has classified what facial muscles contribute to emotional expressions, and IIRC, the muscles around the eyes figure heavily.