I never forget a face - but I’m going to make an exception in your case.

GROUCHO MARX (1890-1977)


The Thatcher Effect

If you take a photograph of a face, cut out the eyes and the mouth, paste them back into their normal positions but upside-down, then turn the whole photograph upside-down and show it to someone, they’ll think it’s a picture of an ordinary but upside-down face. Then, if you spin the photo the right way up, they’ll suddenly notice the inverted eyes and mouth, which transform the face into something grotesque and scary. The Thatcher Effect is named after Margaret Thatcher because it was her picture that was first used by Dr Peter Thompson of the University of York to demonstrate the illusion in 1980.
The reason we fail to spot the hideous, glowering expression on Thatcher’s face when it’s upside-down is because ‘reading’ a facial expression requires a sharp understanding of a face’s details. We have a specialist area of the brain just for this, known as the ‘fusiform face area’, which is so specialised that it only works for faces, and only if they are more-or-less upright. If we spot anything even remotely resembling an upright face, this region kicks in and overrides other parts of the brain that we’d use to recognise more general shapes like cups, flowers or buildings.

This explains our innate tendency to see faces everywhere: for example, if a cloud has two holes above a single hole, we automatically interpret them as eyes and a mouth. Examples of this phenomenon include the ‘man in the moon’, the supposed face-rock on the surface of Mars and the face of Jesus that looms out of cheese sandwiches.


She [Margaret Thatcher] has the eyes of Caligula but the mouth of Marilyn Monroe.

Face Value

The practice of physiognomy is founded on the belief that you can tell a person’s character and personality from their face. This belief goes as far back as Aristotle, but it was first systematised by the 19th century Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso who believed that criminals are atavisms (throwbacks) to a primitive human ancestor. He also claimed that criminals had a higher pain threshold, which he thought was the reason so many of them had tattoos.

Facial characteristics that were thought to denote criminal tendencies in the 19th century included: a lack of cranial symmetry; high cheekbones; ugliness; and having long ears set high on the side of the head. Because criminals need to be watchful and distrustful, they were supposed to have wrinkled foreheads. These things were studied quite seriously by measuring the ears and facial dimensions of the prison population and tabulating the results against the types of crime committed.
These, days physiognomy is generally dismissed as pseudo-science, but recent studies have noted that because good-looking people tend to have better job prospects, ugly people would have more to gain from criminal activity and so ‘it is expected that less attractive people sort themselves into the criminal sector’.
Seeing good or evil in peoples’ faces may lack any scientific basis, but it’s a prejudice that runs deep: heroes in films tend to be good-looking, whilst villains tend to be ugly, and some plain-faced actors have made entire careers out of playing criminals. 

Smiling Versus Frowning

One myth which has been spread for years by word of mouth, greetings cards, forwarded emails and the press is that is takes more muscles to frown than it takes to smile. However, it actually takes one more muscle to smile than it does to frown. Of the 53 facial muscles, 12 are needed to smile a genuine smile (called a zygomatic smile) and 11 are needed to frown.
A genuine smile takes two muscles to crinkle the eyes, two to pull up the lip corners and nose, two to elevate the mouth angle, and two to pull the mouth corners sideways. Total: 12.
A frown needs two muscles to pull down the lips in the lower face, three to furrow the brow, one to purse the lips, one to depress the lower lip, and two to pull the mouth corners down. Total: 11.
However, to make a deadpan, fake smile, you only need to tighten your two risorius muscles - making insincerity by far the easiest option.

Sheep have a good memory for faces.

The ‘smiley face’ emoticon was invented by freelance artist Harvey Ball to improve the morale of insurance company workers.


It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it's not, it's a visa, and it runs out fast.

Backpfeifengesicht is German for ‘a face that makes you want to hit it’.

Aladdin's face in Disney's film was based on Tom Cruise.

Cats rub their faces against objects to claim them as their territory.

'Beer goggles' occur because alcohol inhibits your ability to recognize asymmetry in a face.

Prosopagnosia, also known as ‘face blindness’, is the inability to recognise faces.