Why it is hard to spot familiar faces in a crowd

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Washington, Jan 19 : Ever wondered why we find it difficult to pick out a familiar face in a crowd? Well, according to a new study, searching for a face in a crowd is difficult in part because images of upright faces interfere with each other, and that the phenomenon might have implications for individuals with face-recognition disorders and visual-attention related ailments.

The study is a part of Journal of Vision special issue titled "Crowding: Including illusory conjunctions, surround suppression, and attention."

"Crowding" is a failure to recognize an individual object in a cluttered environment. It may be due to one of the shortcuts our brains use to help us make sense of the vast amount of visual information we take in every second.

In the study, the research team conducted five experiments to measure participants' recognition of a familiar face or house that was located in a crowded display of other faces or houses.

The analysis found that face recognition was more difficult when target faces were surrounded by upright faces (as seen in crowds). This effect was not present for images of houses, or when upside-down faces were used as targets.

The results indicate that searching for a face in a crowd is difficult in part because images of upright faces interfere with each other.

"Crowding may reveal one of the fundamental mechanisms the visual system uses to consolidate or filter a great deal of information into a very few meaningful chunks," Dr. Whitney, author of the study said.

"If vision scientists and engineers are to develop an efficient and realistic artificial visual system, they will almost certainly benefit from using the human visual system as a model. An understanding of the visual system's heuristics, shortcuts and limitations - such as crowding - will likely prove essential in designing effective artificial vision," Dr. Whitney added.

The finding can help scientists develop an artificial visual system that approaches the sophistication of human visual perception.

ANI

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