Staring at Disfigured Faces Is 'Instinctive'

Distorted or frozen features trigger a 'primal response' in viewers, scientists believe
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 26, 2009 2:42 AM CDT
Doctors who participated in the nation's first near-total face transplant watch an animation of the procedure at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.    (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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(Newser) – The stares people like face transplant patient Connie Culp deal with are likely the result of instinct rather than insensitivity, Wired reports. Scientists believe that disfigured faces flummox the screening system the brain has developed to judge whether a person poses a potential threat, causing people to become transfixed when they spot a disfigured person.

The brain stores patterns of facial expressions so that a quick glance can tell whether they may be unsafe, explained an expert. But "when a face is distorted, we have no pattern to match that," she said.
(Read more face recognition stories.)