Face Off

When you click play below, the image you will see is a computer generated video of a mask spinning slowly in a circle. As the mask turns inside-out, the inverse face-image appears to be turning the other way. It’s a simple yet baffling thing to behold. So behold!

How It Works

Faces. They are the first thing we begin to recognize as a child, how we distinguish our friends, family, and coworkers, how we view ourselves. We look at them every day, monitor them for reactions, stare at them everywhere we go. Our minds get so accustomed to processing and reading faces that we become hardwired to see face-like characteristics in objects that actually aren’t faces. We make faces out of clouds, stained shrouds, and cheese sandwiches. We even make faces out of faces.

Notice how in this video loop there are no shadows in the mask’s image to cue us in which particular direction the face is, um, facing. Our brains have no other choice but to rely on what little information they have to make sense of the image. Because we are so used to seeing faces in a particular way—particularly not seeing faces inversed as they are in the video—we interpret the inverse mask image as not inside-out, but just spinning in the opposite direction.

Here’s something else about faces you might want to know: The fusiform gyrus is a part of the temporal lobe towards the front of the brain that handles how we see and understand color, words, numbers, abstractions, and faces. When the fusiform gyrus gets disrupted, some researchers believe it can inhibit our ability to recognize faces. The disorder prosopagnosia—”face blindness,” in which a person has full mental capacity but cannot recognize faces no matter how many times he sees them—is believed to be related to malfunctioning in the fusiform gyrus.