How to Make Your Boring Face More Memorable


Researchers at MIT have found that the memorability of your face — just like everything else about you — can be improved via Photoshop. Hooray. They project that this discovery will one day enable us to subtly manipulate photographs of ourselves in order to appear less forgettable online (in person we will all remain bland, characterless hunks of flesh).

According to NPR, it’s been scientifically proven that certain faces just adhere to our memories more firmly. Certain associations make a face more memorable, it seems — we mentally hold onto faces that project familiarity, uniqueness, trustworthiness and kindness. In the words of Aude Olivia, one MIT researcher, “If there is someone you have never seen [before] and … this person
looks familiar — then, if this person looks kind, trustworthy and
distinct, then it will be easier to remember them.” By “familiar yet distinct,” researchers mean that you’re more likely to remember someone who looks kind of like Orlando Bloom than someone who looks nothing like Orlando Bloom, but if he has the exact same face as Orlando Bloom you will remember him as the man wearing a mask made of a Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug actor’s face.

Experimental subjects were asked to play a visual memory game in which they were presented with a sequence of 120 faces. Each face was shown for 1.4 seconds, with an interval of 1 second in between. Subjects were instructed to press a key when they encountered a face that they’d seen before. After determining which faces were the most memorable, researchers photoshopped each image to yield three versions: the original; an image that had been made more memorable, according to experimental findings; and an image that had been rendered less memorable. Subjects were then asked to play a new version of the memory game, in which half of the faces had been made more memorable and the other half had been made less.

As predicted, the faces modified to fit in with “more memorable” criteria were more easily remembered, and vice versa. According to the experiment’s findings:

The current results show that memorability
is a trait that can be manipulated like a facial emotion
changing the whole face in subtle ways to make it look
more distinctive and interesting. These memorability transformations are subtle, like an imperceptible “memory face
lift.” These modified faces are either better remembered or
forgotten after a glance, depending on our manipulation.
Here we show we can create, in a static photograph, a first impression that lasts.

The experimenters maintain that memorability functions independently of other value judgements we make of a face (e.g., emotion, attractiveness, aggression) — but it’s worth noting that what they’ve found to be “more memorable” looks a lot like “thinner,” not necessarily “more trustworthy” or “kinder.”

The MIT researchers conclude that their findings could be used in a variety of fields: one could make one’s LinkedIn more attractive to employers (glamorous!!!), we can make better animated characters with this knowledge (“distinctiveness” might be a problem there, though), and we can put special, scientific makeup on movie stars to make them stand out from crowd scenes. Eventually, there could be an easy app that turns all your selfies into better, more compelling versions of you. Hooray. Meanwhile, researchers at MIT’s sister school, The University of Kris Jenner, are hard at work trying to determine what constitutes the most memorable butt.


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