The Impact of the Human Face

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What makes the human face so interesting?  Newborn babies will stare at the faces of the people around them and when you find someone attractive, you may find yourself starting at their face for long periods of time.

Why is it so compelling to covet the human face?

Psychology Today has taken this question to film and asked why our gaze seems to linger longer on images that have faces more than any other images. The article noted that in a study by Robert Fantz, young infants stared twice as long at a black-and-white simplified human face than black-and-white concentric circles. Even though a bull’s-eye target is eye-catching, babies spent twice as much time gazing at a simplified face.

The article notes that the ‘ability to orient to, and accurately read, human faces has high survival value throughout our lives. We must register quickly if there is a stranger in our midst, and sense if this is a friendly or threatening presence.  In short, we may be hard-wired to focus on faces as they provide information that is fundamentally important to our physical and social survival.’

The article directly comments that our face interest is particularly apparent in movies. An interesting insight, commented on by Hungarian film theorist Béla Balázs, is that film stands out from other performance arts in that film has the coveted “close-ups” and can bring its audience closer to the emotion of a scene via the facial expressions of the actor.

Many individuals have difficulty interpreting emotion on a large or abstract scale; images of a tornado victim or the agony of a loss can be expressed more clearly for the audience via the face.

Wide shots usually reveal a broader context while facial shots embody the emotional character of the film.  Also close-ups give the opportunity to have the audience mirror the emotions they see, creating a more intimate relationship with the character in the film and heightening the experience as a whole.

The article goes on to state, The lingering close-up of a face presents only the illusion of being able to read the inner thoughts of another. What we think a film character may be thinking may reveal as much, if not more, about the inner recesses of our own minds.

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