The Power of a Face,
April 13, 2020


Socializing in Socially Distant Times:

Human beings, like many of our close evolutionary relatives, are at our core social creatures, which is why our mental health is a serious issue at this time of sheltering inside.

Our brains are hard-wired to be social because our survival depends on it.  That’s ironic as we distance physically to keep our bodies safe.

The Power of a Face:

Recent research has shown that people have specialized neurons in our visual cortex and frontal lobe designed for recognizing faces. In fact, we are better at recognizing human faces and emotions than just about anything else around us.

Facial recognition has helped people effectively cooperate so that throughout millenia we have been able to work together to survive. That may be why even infants can recognize and are drawn to faces, especially expressive ones.

And it makes us happy too! When we see someone smile, our neurons activate and send all the signals they can to make us feel the same happiness as the person we are looking at.

How to Stay Calm, Close, and Connected:

That’s why it is only human to feel destabilized emotionally right now, anxious or depressed.  But there are steps to take that can help:

  • Use video calling apps for meetings rather than phone conferences
    • Schedule virtual hang outs with family and friends, such as a video call happy hour, with apps like zoom, skype, or google hangouts
  • Take time for physically distant walks if you are able
  • If you can, volunteer to give assistance to others, such as making masks or going grocery shopping for neighbors

All these activities allow you to you feel purposely connected to other humans and their smiling faces, and that can make all the difference.




Bar-Ilan University. “Neurons in the human visual cortex that respond to faces.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 January 2019. <>.


Powell, Lindsey J., Heather L. Kosakowski, and Rebecca Saxe. “Social Origins of Cortical Face Areas.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 22, no. 9, 2018, pp. 752-763. ProQuest,, doi:


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