The face is the front of an animal's head that features three of the head's sense organs, the eyes, nose, and mouth, and through which animals express many of their emotions.[1][2] The face is crucial for human identity, and damage such as scarring or developmental deformities affects the psyche adversely.[1]

Ventrolateral aspect of the face with skin removed, showing muscles of the face.
LatinFacies, facia
Anatomical terminology


The front of the human head is called the face. It includes several distinct areas,[3] of which the main features are:

Facial appearance is vital for human recognition and communication. Facial muscles in humans allow expression of emotions.

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 many human senses, such as touch, temperature, smell, taste, hearing, movement, hunger, or visual stimuli.[4]


The nasal cartilages are important in defining the shape of the nose.
The muscles of the face are important when engaging in facial expressions.
Skeletal anatomy of the face

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).[1] The bones involved in shaping the face are mainly the maxilla, mandible, nasal bone and zygomatic bone. Also important are various soft tissues, such as fat, hair and skin (of which color may vary).[1]

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.[1]

Facial shape is an important determinant of beauty, particularly facial symmetry.

Human face development, by Haeckel
Various face profiles as caricatures, by William Hogarth
A man's face
A woman's face



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[5] 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.[6]

The muscles of the face play a prominent role in the expression of emotion,[1] and vary among different individuals, giving rise to additional diversity in expression and facial features.[7]

Variations of the risorius, triangularis and zygomaticus muscles.

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".[8] This suggests that with experience and age, we become more accurate at perceiving true emotions across various age groups.

Perception and recognition of faces

The face perception mechanisms of the brain, such as the fusiform face area, can produce facial pareidolias such as this famous rock formation on Mars

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".[9] Allen's work takes a psychological perspective that combines evolutionary theories with Gestalt psychology.

Biological perspective

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".[10] 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".[11]

Society and culture

Facial surgery

Cosmetic surgery can be used to alter the appearance of the facial features.[12] Maxillofacial 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.[13]


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.[14]


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,[15] 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".

See also


  1. Moore, Keith L.; Dalley, Arthur F.; Agur, Anne M. R. (2010). Moore's clinical anatomy. United States of America: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. pp. 843–980. ISBN 978-1-60547-652-0.
  2. "Year of Discovery, Faceless and Brainless Fish". 2011-12-29. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  3. Face | Define Face at Dictionary.com. Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved on 2011-04-29.
  4. Anatomy of the Face and Head Underlying Facial Expression Archived 2007-11-29 at the Wayback Machine. Face-and-emotion.com. Retrieved on 2011-04-29.
  5. Multimodal Emotion Recognition Test (MERT) | Swiss Center for Affective Sciences Archived 2011-09-03 at the Wayback Machine. Affective-sciences.org. Retrieved on 2011-04-29.
  6. Bänziger, T.; Grandjean, D. & Scherer, K. R. (2009). "Emotion recognition from expressions in face, voice, and body: The Multimodal Emotion Recognition Test (MERT)" (PDF). Emotion. 9 (5): 691–704. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/a0017088. PMID 19803591.
  7. Braus, Hermann (1921). Anatomie des Menschen: ein Lehrbuch für Studierende und Ärzte. p. 777.
  8. Murphy, N. A.; Lehrfeld, J. M. & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2010). "Recognition of posed and spontaneous dynamic smiles in young and older adults". Psychology and Aging. 25 (4): 811–821. doi:10.1037/a0019888. PMC 3011054. PMID 20718538.
  9. Allen, Gary L.; Peterson, Mary A.; Rhodes, Gillian (2006). "Review: Seeking a Common Gestalt Approach to the Perception of Faces, Objects, and Scenes". American Journal of Psychology. 119 (2): 311–19. doi:10.2307/20445341. JSTOR 20445341.
  10. Beaton, E. A., Schmidt, L. A., Schulkin, J., Antony, M. M., Swinson, R. P. & Hall, G. B. (2009). "Different fusiform activity to stranger and personally familiar faces in shy and social adults". Social Neuroscience. 4 (4): 308–316. doi:10.1080/17470910902801021. PMID 19322727.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Chatterjee, A.; Thomas, A.; Smith, S. E. & Aguirre, G. K. (2009). "The neural response to facial attractiveness". Neuropsychology. 23 (2): 135–143. CiteSeerX doi:10.1037/a0014430. PMID 19254086.
  12. Plastic and Cosmetic Surgery: MedlinePlus. Nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved on 2011-04-29.
  13. Face Transplant Surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital
  14. information about caricatures Archived 2007-08-26 at the Wayback Machine. Edu.dudley.gov.uk. Retrieved on 2011-04-29.
  15. Ho, David Yau-fai (January 1976). "On the Concept of Face". American Journal of Sociology. 81 (4): 867–84. doi:10.1086/226145. JSTOR 2777600.: "The concept of face is, of course, Chinese in origin".
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