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Detecting faces: People use some of the same strategies computers do

How does our visual system decide if something is a face? Some automated face-detecting software uses color as one cue that something is a face. For example Apple’s iPhoto has no trouble determining that there are two faces in this color picture:


That’s Nora in the back, and her cousin Ginger in front. In this picture, however, iPhoto can’t identify a face:


That’s a vintage black-and-white photo of Nora and Ginger’s grandfather, but the computer can’t find any faces in it. Do people, like computers, use color to help decide whether something they see is a face? Humans are excellent at identifying colors, and while faces can be many colors, there are also many colors that are very rarely seen in faces (e.g. blue, green, orange). Could we use skin-tones to help identify faces?

Markus Bindemann and Mike Burton created a set of images with faces placed in random locations, like this:

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