Posted on April 2, 2007

Humans Can See Race And Sex Even In Simple Outlines

Corey Binns, LiveScience (New York), March 30, 2007

Adult minds are so keen at spotting race, gender and age that we can correctly guess those features from nothing more than a black-and-white silhouette, new experiments show.


The way that our brains process faces, [author Nicolas Davidenko] said, seems so flexible that our minds can even assign people to social and biological categories drawing only on views that occur less commonly in our daily livesincluding black-and-white profiles.

Davidenko found that people correctly identified the gender of the person in silhouettes 70 percent of the time. Meanwhile, people guessed the correct ageto within 10 years68 percent of the time. The study details are published in the March 21 issue of the Journal of Vision.

Hair’s effect


He has also found people are 85 percent accurate in identifying a person’s race from a black-and-white image.

Brows, chins and noses

When studying face recognition, researchers often focus on features including the eyes, nose and mouth. But this new study suggests that certain aspects of the shape of the face appear to be key elements used to recognize a face.

For example, the width of a brow, length of chin and protrusion of a nose makes a face appear more masculine.

Davidenko has measured the contours of silhouettes in a collection of 400 face profiles to analyze, for example, which aspects tend to go with male faces and which are female.


[Editor’s Note: “Silhouetted face profiles: A new methodology for face perception research,” by Nicolas Davidenko, can be read here.

[It can be downloaded as a PDF here, or read as a PDF on-line here.

[See the article rather than the original news story for a clearer look at the graphics.]