Most people draw faces with the eyes too high on the head, an effect that researchers think may come from an illusion caused by the shape of the head.

Quote Originally Posted by Science News
Letís try an experiment: Draw a face. Nothing fancy, just an oval with eyes, nose, mouth, some hair.

What youíve produced probably looks like a cartoon Neandertal. Just about everyone tends to draw faces with the eyes too high on the head, resulting in a low forehead and a rather cretinous look.

Itís not just a matter of artistic talent. Psychology researchers (not to mention generations of art teachers) have noticed that everyone does it. That got Claus-Christian Carbon, who studies visual perception, wondering. Why donít we know where peopleís eyes are on their head? After all, humans are intensely social creatures who are highly attuned to reading each otherís faces. The eyes, in particular, get a lot of our attention.

In reality, your eyes are right about in the middle of your head, measured vertically. But most people draw them definitively above center.


So the researchers came up with three hypotheses, reported in March in Perception, to explain why normal people, and even people who study faces for a living, might not be able to put eyes in the right place. Here they are, in my own subjective order of increasing weirdness:

Hair-as-hat hypothesis: People donít think of the hair as part of the head, but as sitting on top of the head like a hat (at least when theyíre drawing a face). So they relate eye position to whatís seen as the ďfaceĒ rather than considering where the eyes are on the head as a whole.

Head-as-box hypothesis: People donít take the convexity (roundness) of the forehead into account, so the top of the head is assumed to be lower than it really is.

Face-from-below hypothesis: Babies first see faces mostly from below, and this view sets a mental map of sorts that is hard to erase later in life.

So far, the results seem to favor the second hypothesis, head as box. Analysis of the relative length of the faces that people drew showed the heads to be too short compared with the models they were based on. The hairlines, on the other hand, were drawn in the correct relative position, causing the forehead to be too small.

ďAs humans we have trouble assessing round shapes,Ē Carbon says. ďHerman Munster has a really nonconvex head. Thatís maybe the only person in the world whose head you might estimate correctly.Ē