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Perception, 2003, volume 32, pages 285 ^ 293


The role of eyebrows in face recognition

Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 45 Carleton Street, E25-201, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA; e-mail: sadr@mit.edu; sinha@ai.mit.edu Received 23 April 2002, in revised form 4 November 2002; published online 7 March 2003

Javid Sadrô, Izzat Jarudi, Pawan Sinhaô

Abstract. A fundamental challenge in face recognition lies in determining which facial characteristics are important in the identification of faces. Several studies have indicated the significance of certain facial features in this regard, particularly internal ones such as the eyes and mouth. Surprisingly, however, one rather prominent facial feature has received little attention in this domain: the eyebrows. Past work has examined the role of eyebrows in emotional expression and nonverbal communication, as well as in facial aesthetics and sexual dimorphism. However, it has not been made clear whether the eyebrows play an important role in the identification of faces. Here, we report experimental results which suggest that for face recognition the eyebrows may be at least as influential as the eyes. Specifically, we find that the absence of eyebrows in familiar faces leads to a very large and significant disruption in recognition performance. In fact, a significantly greater decrement in face recognition is observed in the absence of eyebrows than in the absence of eyes. These results may have important implications for our understanding of the mechanisms of face recognition in humans as well as for the development of artificial face-recognition systems.

1 Introduction Evolutionary history has seen a considerable reduction in the amount of hair on the human face (McNeill 2000; figure 1). As such, the presence of the eyebrow might seem a curiosity. Do the eyebrows in fact serve a useful purpose or are they merely an evolutionary vestige? While...
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