GGC professor says our brains respond to those who look like us

Georgia Gwinnett College Psychology Professor Steven Platek says his research shows that “self-resembling faces” activate reward centers in the brain – even when those same faces are morphed into different ethnicities and members of the opposite sex.

Georgia Gwinnett College Psychology Professor Steven Platek says his research shows that “self-resembling faces” activate reward centers in the brain – even when those same faces are morphed into different ethnicities and members of the opposite sex.

What is particularly interesting about his research is that the brain’s preference for self-resembling faces only was apparent in same race faces – even if other race faces were made to resemble the participants. Dr. Platek and his team believe that their findings demonstrate a neurological foundation responsible not only for kin recognition and preference, but also for the development recognition of group membership and intergroup dynamics. A good example of this would be in race relations.

His research, entitled “Implicit Ratings of Self-Resembling Faces Activate Brain Centers Involved in Reward” will be published in Neuropsychologia and currently is available online at: doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.07.018.

“We like the look of look-alikes,” Dr. Platek says. “People who physically resemble us engender positive social feelings – and this affects all of us in our day-to-day lives, for example, in romantic relationships, job interviews and possibly even acceptance into colleges and universities.”

Dr. Platek says that “face perception and resemblance” has been a passion of his for more than a decade. In his research, which took place in England, he investigated the brain activation to self-resembling faces and found that people trusted those who look like them relative to those who looked different. Furthermore, areas of the brain implicated in reward processing were associated with view self-resembling faces, suggesting that there is something inherently positive about a face that looks like yours.

“This may partially explain the old saying,” he says, “birds of a feather flock together.”

Dr. Platek transformed 11 participants’ photographs to resemble them in three ways – combined with another face of the same sex and ethnicity, transformed to appear as a member of another ethnicity and transformed to a member of the opposite sex.

These images then were presented to participants while their brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Self-face resemblance was then associated with increased ratings of trustworthiness and increased ratings of trustworthiness in self-resembling faces were associated with activation of the brain’s reward centers.

He used 179 points of delineation on each face to calculate the difference between each participant’s face and an average composite face of the same race and sex, same sex and different race and same race but opposite sex.

Images were presented for 750 millisecond and participants were able to respond within a window of 2000 milliseconds. Each face was presented 20 times. Four weeks later, participants rated the “trustworthiness” of each face they saw.

Self-face resemblance was shown to increase ratings of attractiveness and trust – regardless of ethnicity, but not the sex of the person in the photos. If the ethnicity/race was the same as the participant, the trustworthiness was rated higher whether the person in the photo was male or female.

Dr. Platek is a native of Philadelphia has a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in Biopsychology from The University at Albany-State University of New York. He recently was a lecturer in Evolutionary Psychology in the School of Biological Sciences and Research Associate in the MARIARC Brain Imaging Center in Liverpool. He also taught courses on human cognitive evolution, neuropsychology, evolutionary psychology and biopsychology. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor of psychology and an assistant research professor of biomedical engineering, sciences and health systems at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He currently lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

Neuropsychologia is an international interdisciplinary journal devoted to integrating experimental, clinical and theoretical contributions that advance understanding of human behavior and cognition from a neuroscience perspective.

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