A concern by Upper Canada College art department head David Holt that people spend so much time staring at screens that face-to-face communication is suffering led him to create a fun contest to show how important faces are and encourage people to think about them.
“Kids will look at you as if you were a screen and they’re not really reading your face expression,” says Holt. “They hear the words but they’re not really reading your expressions.”
This phenomenon isn’t restricted to young people however, and Holt believes this “lack of appropriate behaviour” can have an adverse affect on both individual relationships and a larger sense of community.
Holt made a presentation at a Feb. 26 arts assembly where he talked about the “communicators” component of the International Baccalaureate learner profile and why paying attention to someone’s face during a conversation is important. He pointed out that many muscles of the face connect directly to the skin, allowing an array of meaningful facial movements to accompany vocal intonations.
Early French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne pioneered using electrical charges to stimulate facial muscles, producing the appearance of different emotional states that were recorded in photographs that Charles Darwin used in his 1872 book The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals.
Some researchers think facial recognition is less about familiarity and more about how the proportions of facial features relate geometrically to one another. Such patterns are the basis for the facial recognition software you see being used on television shows like Bones and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
The importance of facial expressions has also been long recognized in dance and theatre, where masks conveyed forceful emotional messages in the days before film close-ups.
All of these points, which Holt illustrated with examples and graphics, led him to introduce the concept of pareidolia: the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it doesn’t actually exist. It’s this idea that accounts for people’s propensity to see faces in inanimate objects.
Pareidolia sparked Holt’s conception of a contest where people could take photos of things that they see faces in and then email them to him in hopes of winning a $20 prize. Holt contributed several photos, even though he wasn’t eligible for the contest, and about 30 other entries were submitted by students and staff members.
The photo chosen as the best featured the smallest face submitted. It was announced in assembly on April 11 that a shot of a face on a cactus made IB1 student Nicholas Mountford $20 richer.