Facial phenotypes and perceiving faces

We’ve taken to really studying people’s faces of our dear friends and family members who are particularly dysfunctional (in our view, and no, we don’t feel badly about making judgments like this). We’re trying to correlate facial phenotypes with behaviors. Now that we’re looking for it, we’ve noticed one eye out of alignment, flat mid-faces, outsized epicanthal folds, non-inherited palebral slants, non-distinct philtrums covered up with mustaches, teensy lumps on the ear, and more generally just crazed looks. We  should discount all our empirical data due to confirmation bias . *Sigh* Hey, we ain’t aiming for no peer review.

Nevertheless, facial phenotypes have been found for a variety of behavioral conditions, like fetal alcohol, Williams’ syndrome, Downs’ syndrome, and now conditions characterized as some form of autism. The theory is that in utero facial anatomical development reflects brain/neural in utero development.

Then there is looking at faces. Special areas of the brain are for facial detection (and some have trouble perceiving faces, we imagine much like a Magritte painting), there are brain areas for detecting facial emotion, and there are conditions involving an aversion to eye gaze, and other conditions with increased eye gaze.

There are studies reporting that the perception of symmetry increases the judgment of beauty. We’ve blogged about body laterality (category page: Laterality), and looked at different patterning molecules, like hedgehog (hedgehog posts here and here). We wondered if pinkie toe asymmetry was indicative of anything (we think its more of a local effect, here).

Does symmetry in the face mean symmetry in the brain? An interesting concept. We think a “brain symmetry” as a proxy for “neurotypical” is a useful concept.  Think of “mental retardation,”  — term we think is not only grossly misdescriptive, but also with a demeaning connotation — we think a better term is “mentally asymmetric.”  People think in different ways. Who are we to say that a Williams’ syndrome individual who is a music virtuoso is less intelligent than a Wharton student merely because of established measurements of IQ?

How this asymmetry comes about is anyone’s guess.  It could be a genetic issue, but we think more commonly an epigenetic effect. For instance, we’ve blogged about the fetal alcohol epigenetic effects resulting in cranial malformations in rodents — B is male, and C is female in the image below — the male is deformed, and the female is missing midline detail:



And so, does the face give away the brain? And if you can’t see faces, does that mean you have a social handicap in not being able to detect facial features? What are psychopath facial phenotypes?