This Is Why Human Faces Are So Distinctly Different

A Bulldogs fan gets his face painted before the NRL 2nd Elimination Final match between the Melbourne Storm and the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs. Michael Dodge/Getty Images

The amazing range of human faces is the result of evolutionary pressure to make each of us unique and easily recognisable, according to a study.

Highly visual social interactions are almost certainly the driver of this evolutionary trend, says behavioral ecologist Michael J. Sheehan at the University of California’s Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

Many animals use smell or sound to identify individuals, making distinctive facial features unimportant, especially for animals which roam after dark.

But people are different.

“Our study now shows that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable,” Sheehan says.

“It is clearly beneficial for me to recognise others, but also beneficial for me to be recognisable. Otherwise, we would all look more similar.”

The researchers found that facial traits are much more variable than other bodily traits, such as the length of the hand, and that facial traits are independent of other facial traits, unlike most body measures.

People with longer arms, for example, typically have longer legs, while people with wider noses or widely spaced eyes don’t have longer noses.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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