Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is the way individuals use a variety of conscious and unconscious mechanisms to identify another person based on facial features and perceived expression. Face recognition in the real world is far more accurate than it is when viewing photographs, video, or other media.

Facial recognition is the way in which individuals use a variety of neuronal, biological, environmental, and social mechanisms to identify another person based on facial features and perceived expression. Facial recognition is a neuropsychological and neurobiological process involving many different brain areas.

Facial recognition is a complex neuropsychological process involving multiple areas of the brain, including the temporal and frontal lobes, the somatosensory cortex, and the amygdala. Early research on facial recognition hypothesized that identification and perception of different aspects of the face—conveyed emotion, facial expression, and facial characteristics used in establishing individual identity—were each processed differently and occurred independently of each other. Early research suggested that facial reflection of emotion was processed differently in the brain from other facial cues. Subsequent brain research indicated that there are neurons in the amygdala that respond both to perceived emotional expression (affect) and to identifying facial features.

Neurobiological research by Anthony Atkinson and Ralph Adolphs (2011) indicated that higher level facial processing, including judging emotion from facial expressions and discriminating identity among similar faces, involves interactions among multiple regions of the brain. They posited that “because the demands of the task and environmental and social context affect face perception, face perception cannot result from a simple extraction of cues by different regions … higher level face perception abilities depend on the interplay between several different neural regions in which the specific interactions may vary according to task or context.”

See also Abnormal psychology ; Figure-ground perception; Learning ; Memory ; Reinforcement ; Social cognition .



Gates, Kelly. Our Biometric Future: Facial Recognition Technology and the Culture of Surveillance. New York: New York University Press, 2011.

Li, Stan Z., and Anil K. Jain, eds. Handbook of Face Recognition. London: Springer, 2011.

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Pato, Joseph N., and Lynette I. Millett, eds. Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2010.

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Atkinson, Anthony P., and Ralph Adolphs. “The Neuropsychology of Face Perception: Beyond Simple Dissociations and Functional Selectivity” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Science 366, no. 1571 (May 2011): 1726–38. Available online at http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1571/1726 (accessed July 15, 2015).

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American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychiatry, Department of Psychiatry (F6248, MCHC-6), University of Michigan Health System, 1500 E. Medical Center Dr., SPC 5295, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-5295, (734) 9368269, Fax: (734) 936-9761, https://www.theaacn.org .