The Biggest Face Perception Experiment in History

How has wearing masks during the pandemic affected our ability to recognize others? And could this knowledge help people with brain injuries?

 |  Transcript [PDF]

The visual information picked up by our eyes is processed in the brain, but there are actually two visual pathways. One supports vision for perception, allowing us to read, navigate, and recognize people and objects. The other informs our interactions with objects and other people.

Cognitive neuroscientist Erez Freud studies the interplay between vision for perception and action, and there is growing evidence that they aren’t fully separate systems. Scientists need to understand nature of these visual pathways and their interactions to help patients whose vision disorders originate in the brain.

“Neuropsychological investigations are crucially important to understand vision,” says Freud, assistant professor of psychology at York University’s Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program.

“In the future, I hope that this understanding will also allow us to try and help those individuals who suffer from brain injuries, to help them overcome their difficulties, their deficits, in order to re-perceive the world.”

Freud uses a combination of techniques to measure visual behaviour and how the brain responds. These include neuroimaging, developmental studies, and motion tracking.

One of the most important things we see and perceive is other faces, and the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an unprecedented chance to study how people perceive them when they’re only partially visible. Even months into the pandemic, many people are struggling to adapt to identifying masked faces.

“We are actually participating in the biggest experiment in human history in terms of face perception,” says Freud. “All of us are wearing masks all day long, and we need to recognize different people around us. We are trying to understand how face perception abilities are impacted by this new addition, the occlusion of half of the face.”

Vision is central to human interactions, and this research helps us understand how it translates into perception and action, even when new obstacles are thrown into the mix.

‹ Previous post
Next post ›

Erez Freud completed his PhD in 2015 at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.

Currently, Freud is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health, and the head of the Freud lab at York University. The Freud lab is focused on the investigation of the cognitive and neural processes that mediate our ability to perceive the world around us and to interact with objects in our environment. His interests are neuropychology of the visual system, object recognition, visuomotor control and developmental psychology.

Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.