The face is a central organ of sense and is also very central in the expression of emotion among humans and among numerous other species. The face is normally found on the anterior (frontal, rostral, ventral) surface of the head of animals or humans, although not all animals have faces. The face is crucial for human identity, and damage such as scarring or developmental deformities have effects stretching beyond those of solely physical inconvenience.
The face is itself a highly sensitive region of the human body and its expression may change when the brain is stimulated by any of the five senses: touch, temperature smell, taste, hearing, and visual stimuli.
The face is the feature which best distinguishes a person. Specialized regions of the human brain, such as the fusiform face area (FFA), enable facial recognition; when these are damaged, it may be impossible to recognize faces even of intimate family members. The pattern of specific organs, such as the eyes, or of parts of them, is used in biometric identification to uniquely identify individuals.
The shape of the face is influenced by the bone-structure of the skull, and each face is unique through the anatomical variation present in the bones of the viscerocranium (and neurocranium), but also important are various soft tissues, such as fat, hair and skin (of which color may vary).
The face changes over time, and features common in children or babies, such as prominent buccal fat-pads disappear over time, their role in the infant being to stabilize the cheeks during suckling. While the buccal fat-pads often diminish in size, the prominence of bones increase with age as they grow and develop.
Facial shape is an important determinant of beauty, particularly facial symmetry.
Faces are essential to expressing emotion, consciously or unconsciously. A frown denotes disapproval; a smile usually means someone is pleased. Being able to read emotion in another's face is "the fundamental basis for empathy and the ability to interpret a person’s reactions and predict the probability of ensuing behaviors". One study used the Multimodal Emotion Recognition Test to attempt to determine how to measure emotion. This research aimed at using a measuring device to accomplish what people do so easily everyday: read emotion in a face.
People are also relatively good at determining if a smile is real or fake. A recent study looked at individuals judging forced and genuine smiles. While young and elderly participants equally could tell the difference for smiling young people, the "older adult participants outperformed young adult participants in distinguishing between posed and spontaneous smiles". This suggests that with experience and age, we become more accurate at perceiving true emotions across various age groups.
Perception and recognition of faces
Gestalt psychologists theorize that a face is not merely a set of facial features but is rather something meaningful in its form. This is consistent with the Gestalt theory that an image is seen in its entirety, not by its individual parts. According to Gary L. Allen, people adapted to respond more to faces during evolution as the natural result of being a social species. Allen suggests that the purpose of recognizing faces has its roots in the "parent-infant attraction, a quick and low-effort means by which parents and infants form an internal representation of each other, reducing the likelihood that the parent will abandon his or her offspring because of recognition failure". Allen's work takes a psychological perspective that combines evolutionary theories with Gestalt psychology.
Research has indicated that certain areas of the brain respond particularly well to faces. The fusiform face area, within the fusiform gyrus, is activated by faces, and it is activated differently for shy and social people. A study confirmed that "when viewing images of strangers, shy adults exhibited significantly less activation in the fusiform gyri than did social adults". Furthermore, particular areas respond more to a face that is considered attractive, as seen in another study: "Facial beauty evokes a widely distributed neural network involving perceptual, decision-making and reward circuits. In those experiments, the perceptual response across FFA and LOC remained present even when subjects were not attending explicitly to facial beauty".
Society and culture
Cosmetic surgery can be used to alter the appearance of the facial features. Plastic surgery may also be used in cases of facial trauma, injury to the face and skin diseases. Severely disfigured individuals have recently received full face transplants and partial transplants of skin and muscle tissue.
Caricatures often exaggerate facial features to make a face more easily recognized in association with a pronounced portion of the face of the individual in question—for example, a caricature of Osama bin Laden might focus on his facial hair and nose; a caricature of George W. Bush might enlarge his ears to the size of an elephant's; a caricature of Jay Leno may pronounce his head and chin; and a caricature of Mick Jagger might enlarge his lips. Exaggeration of memorable features helps people to recognize others when presented in a caricature form.
By extension, anything which is the forward or world facing part of a system which has internal structure is considered its "face", like the façade of a building. For example a public relations or press officer might be called the "face" of the organization he or she represents. "Face" is also used metaphorically in a sociological context to refer to reputation or standing in society, particularly Chinese society, and is spoken of as a resource which can be won or lost. Because of the association with individuality, the anonymous person is sometimes referred to as "faceless".
This article uses anatomical terminology; for an overview, see anatomical terminology.