Jun
26
2009

Has Brad Pitt been beaten up? Was there an eye shadow accident? Did Vanderbilt University not hire someone good with Photoshop?

Now, these are Brad Pitt's eyes: Or... no, maybe not. I'm not certain.
Now, these are Brad Pitt's eyes: Or... no, maybe not. I'm not certain.Courtesy myrmician
I’ll save you the anxiety of guessing and the effort of researching—it’s the third one. Or maybe psychology grad students really are good at Photoshop, and I simply can’t stand pictures of Bradbrad that have been adulterated in any way.

JGordon, what are you talking about?

Aahh, I don’t even know anymore. But I guess I’m referring to this study that recently came out of Vanderbilt University, about how we recognize human faces. It turns out that while we identify most stuff (cars are given as an example in the article) by individual features, individual humans are identified by the whole collection of facial features.

Holistic recognition (the way we see faces) is nice because we can quickly distinguish between lots of individuals. But the reason we’re able to do it so well, say the scientists, is because we associate names with faces, individuating them as we learn them. This is a different mental path than identifying something by individual parts.

Basically, we don’t identify people by thinking “Let’s see… square jaw, pointy nose, thin eyebrows, small ears… ah! That’s David!” And if we had learned to identify people that way, we would have to relearn to identify them holistically by all their features at once, because the two methods of identification aren’t really linked.

Or something. Like I said, I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

The scientists did, however, attempt to illustrate their point with this picture of actor Brad Pitt. The idea is as follows:
“See this picture of Brad Pitt?”
“Yes, I see that picture of Brad Pitt. Very nice.”
“Are you sure? Take a closer look.”
“What on Earth are you… Oh my goodness! The eyes! Those are Matt Damon’s eyes! Well, I never!”
“Yes, those are Matt Damon’s eyes! But you didn’t look at the eyes and say, ‘This is Matt Damon,’ did you?”
“No indeed!”

Except, if you’re anything like JGordon, you looked at that picture and thought, “What happened to Brad Pitt? Has Angelina Jolie been hitting him? Does he have eyeball parasites?” And you were so distracted by this that any future mention of psychology was overwhelmed by your concern for Benjamin Button himself. He’s only a child, after all.

Eh. Anyway, your photo project looks crazy, Vanderbilt.

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