Science 4 min read

How the Human Mind Pinpoints Faces in a Crowd



Ever wonder why some faces in a crowd are just more noticeable than others? According to a new study, the answer to that may lie in the unconscious mind.

Facial Recognition
Chombosan |

How do we deal with crowded spaces?

Crowds generally have strangers within them, and most of the time these strangers aren’t doing the same thing. It’s a lot of stimuli to take in, and in general, your brain is selective about which faces you notice and which ones you don’t.

Some faces just stand out, but why? To answer that, a recent study by Professor Ran Hassin at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) tells us that our brains do this on an unconscious level. Apparently, there are two main types of faces that stick out: those that seem dominant and those that seem trustworthy.

The experiment that Hassin and his team performed sheds some light upon some of our own mental algorithms. If further research can dig into our unconscious processes, we may be able to better understand things like mental conditions.

If we can understand these issues, then maybe we can become better at treating them.

Let’s take a closer look at the experiments that Professor Hassin’s team conducted.

Picking Out Faces in a Crowd

The details of the study describe six experiments that were conducted with 174 participants.

In these experiments, participants were subjected to various visual stimuli in either eye. In one eye, human faces were displayed, and in the other eye, simple geometric shapes.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Bear in mind, though, that these images were flashing rapidly, which didn’t give the participants brains much time to catch up. Some faces were missed, while others seemed to have a higher priority.

With all of that stimuli, it became apparent to the team that the brain needed a few seconds to process what it was seeing. After that, the conscious brain could quickly process the information.

Can you guess what was the fastest facial information that got processed? According to the study, it lines up with what people see as power and dominance.

Want to get noticed? Go for some #power and #dominance in your look! #getnoticedClick To Tweet

“Walking around the world our unconscious minds are faced with a tremendous task: decide which stimuli ‘deserve’ conscious noticing and which do not,” says Hassin. “The mental algorithm we discovered deeply prioritizes dominance and potential threat,” he noted. “We literally saw the speed with which these images broke through the unconscious mind and registered on a conscious-level with each key press.”

This new ‘mental algorithm’ that the study posits provides an insight into how our consciousness forms. But how is this information useful, and what kind of variables affect the algorithm?

Hassin has been trying to find the answer to these questions for the past decade, so it’s a safe bet that he will be interested to answer these new questions.

A New Mental Algorithm to Understand

We already know one variable to this new mental algorithm. According to Hassin, your brain will unconsciously prioritize faces based on your own personal motivations. This basically means that if you are looking for a fight, then you’ll pick out the dangerous faces. Or, if you want friendship, you may prioritize features that you think look kind or positive.

It puts a whole new spin on the phrase ‘looking for trouble’.

This new layer in our understanding of consciousness may help us pick out faces in a crowd, but it can also lead to a better understanding of mental conditions. Hassin, for one, hopes that the findings can help with things like autism, PTSD, and a number of other disorders.

Hassin claims that “It might be possible to train and untrain people from perceiving certain facial dimensions as threatening.  This could be helpful for those suffering from PTSD or depression. Likewise, we could train people with autism to be more sensitive to social cues.”

The work could give future researchers a new set of tools to understand how the human mind perceives things. For now, though, at least we have a better understanding of how we perceive faces in a crowd.

What other kinds of priorities do you think our unconscious minds use?

First AI Web Content Optimization Platform Just for Writers

Found this article interesting?

Let William McKinney know how much you appreciate this article by clicking the heart icon and by sharing this article on social media.

Profile Image

William McKinney

William is an English teacher, a card carrying nerd, And he may run for president in 2020. #truefact #voteforedgy

Comments (0)
Least Recent least recent
share Scroll to top

Link Copied Successfully

Sign in

Sign in to access your personalized homepage, follow authors and topics you love, and clap for stories that matter to you.

Sign in with Google Sign in with Facebook

By using our site you agree to our privacy policy.