Why do humans have such distinctive faces?

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King Penguins, courtesy Pixabay

Imagine a world where all humans looked similar. Wouldn’t that be confusing for us? After all, our faces are our identity. Today you can even unlock your smartphone by using facial recognition software.

Although the animal kingdom is varied, facial diversity among animals of the same species is pretty low compared to us humans. If you were a squirrel, it would probably be difficult for you to recognize your brother or sister based on sight alone.

Many animals use smell or vocalization (sound) to identify individuals, making distinctive facial features unimportant. For example, King penguins, who have very similar faces mainly use vocalization to recognize one another.

So why do we look different from each other? Humans are different. As a species, we are highly visual and social. Perhaps that is why we focus more on the face. When we meet a new person, we may forget their name, but we tend to remember their face. Did you know that a part of our brain actually specializes in recognizing faces?

We may take this for granted, but facial diversity has many advantages. Picture this: your friend plays a prank on a classmate and the teacher notices it. You don’t get pulled up for it because your teacher can differentiate between your friend and you simply by looking at your faces, right?

This is also why brands are willing to pay huge sums of money to celebrities to endorse their products. Their faces are recognized by the masses and can add credibility to the brand, and encourage people to go out and buy those products.


Written by: Chandni Shah. Chandni is a picture book collector, an educator and founder of Simplifly, a learning venture for children.

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