On Novel Faces and Social Context
22nd Jul 2011Posted in: Blog 2
On Novel Faces and Social Context
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You might be sitting at a table with some people you know one day. At some point, a few people might be introduced to the group of people you know, by someone you know. At that point, those newly introduced people and those who do not know them may begin to become agitated. There is a heightened state of consciousness in the areas involved in facial recognition. The parts of the brain involved in socialization (most of the brain) become active and we are pushed towards a new dimension. Novel stimulus generally produces a lot of brain activity and dopamine production but the introduction of a new person into a group of known persons creates a certain type of reaction involving amydala responses. The activation of the amygdala induces the fight or flight response to a minimal degree because the forward thinking frontal lobe quickly assesses that the risk of a new person in a group is minimal since that new person was introduced by someone you trust. Still, there is a foreignness and unusual character to this experience and that is all the amygdala needs to get to work influencing perception. So, you may sit at a table for some time with this new person, not knowing how to interact with them because you have never done so before. You may try one route with varying degrees of success, then try another, hoping that you will make  a connection. My hope is that you will not get too aggressive in fight response, or too timid in a flight response but that you will try to interact if your gut tells you to and that you will abstain if you feel compelled to abstain based on your intuition. My hope is that you will continue to live your life, freely and in total peace without strong emotions one way or the other. My hope is that you and this person will get from each other what you need, leaving something and taking something as Einstein tells us all interacting matter will do. Who was it who said in physics that any action produces an equal and opposite reaction? Was that Newton? Newton, are you there?

Anyway this whole story started because i was sitting at a table with some friends. Then a couple of new faces were introduced to me. One seemed absolutely angelic and pure while the other seemed more challenging. The challenging one definitely got my defenses up a couple of times by asking questions of an intimate nature. Questions which would expose me as vulnerable in some manner. I realized that I was probably producing a defensive reaction in him, even though i had barely spoke a word. My face, my posture, my behaviour, these were enough to trigger  a defensive reaction. At that moment, i believe the individual chose or felt compelled to strike. Biology only equipped us with a couple of choices here: fight or flee. On this point, Freud corroborates Darwin implicitly because Freud's theory of instincts runs parallel to Darwin's theory of the evolution of fight or flight responses even though neither author ever alluded to each other.

When the more challenging individual came to the table our amygdalas fired instantly as i recall. Like two cats gone prone in an alley, hair raised, immersed in scents, sounds and movement. A certain proximity of age seems to have been a factor. The justification for this hypothesis is that closeness in age and perceived social status my on one hand instantly draw two people closer together but on the other hand, they may view each other as competing for ressources.  In fact, a man never seems to fully know whether he should be cooperating or competing. Invariably, he is doing a bit of both at any given moment. Whether he sits with family or with foe, he must selectively cooperate and compete. A miserable state of affairs i assure you for the future of humanity, yet since we seem to be obligated to this destiny, i choose to question it, look at it and wonder what my role in it is. Luckily, there was nor violence nor extreme love but the man did seem to leave early after arriving and i wondered about that.

To sum up, novel faces are novel stimuli for the brain. When novel stimuli arise, the brain scrambles like fighter pilots dispatched to reorganize chaos. When that happens, consciousness experiences  a heightened state of anxiety and discomfort without being all together overwhelming. The mainframe still has control but the battle station is rattling a little from the bombardment of stimuli. Here are a few of the regions involved in facial recognition and social reasoning.

File:Medial surface of cerebral cortex - fusiform gyrus.png



2 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Great image!!!

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