The Royal Society of Edinburgh Christmas Lecture 2013 St Matthew
s Academy, Saltcoats
Your Face and Your Identity
Professor Caroline Wilkinson FRSE Professor of Craniofacial Identification, University of Dundee
Monday 9 December 2013 Report by Kate Kennedy
What does your face reveal about your identity? What details in the face tell us whether a person is male or female, old or young, White European or Middle Eastern, and how accurate will this assessment be? This interactive lecture looked at the details of the face that reveal identity, using famous faces and faces from the past to illustrate those features. Is it possible to predict the face of an individual from the skull? Can we identify a face just from the bones, and will such a facial reconstruction be accurate? The lecture looked at the facial depictions of Richard III, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Burns, Ramses II and St Nicolas, to describe the techniques used to help identify bodies in forensic investigations and bring faces from the past alive.
Humans are very good at recognising people and interpreting non-verbal communication displayed through facial expressions. This ability makes us successful as animals. When we look at a face, we can tell various things about the individual even before we communicate with them, including their emotional wellbeing, age range, gender, health, cultural background, ethnic origin, lifestyle factors, genetic inheritance, genetic disease and trauma. Certain aspects of the face which tell us about the individual are also evident on the skull. We are able to distinguish between a male and female face with high accuracy in only a few seconds. People find it difficult to explain why they know whether a face is male or female; but, regardless of the
ethnic origin, male faces usually have more facial hair, bigger features, a visible A
and heavier jaw lines and brows. Females generally have finer features and larger eyes relative to the size of the face. However, without certain cues such as hairstyle and makeup, it can be more difficult to tell males and females apart. Ambiguous faces are more likely to be female than male; before puberty, male and female
faces tend to be similar, until a surge in testosterone causes boys
faces to develop secondary sexual characteristics. Whilst facial aspects such as texture cannot be seen on the skull, size and shape differences between male and female skulls are evident. Male skulls tend to be bigger than female skulls and have a visible brow ridge. The male jaw line is also bigger and squarer, with an angle close to 90 degrees, whereas the female jaw line is wider, giving a more delicate chin. Because men have testosterone, they have denser muscles and their muscle attachments are stronger and thicker; another aspect that is visible in the male skull markings. These face and skull differences, however, only apply to adults. Humans are not very good at recognising whether a child is male or female from just looking at the face; experiments show the same results as guessing. Furthermore, the younger the child is, the more difficult it is accurately to determine gender from the skull. Around age 12, changes due to puberty may start to take effect, but prior to this most
s look female.
It is easier to estimate an adult’s age
than a child
s from looking at the face. In infancy, a
takes up a much smaller proportion of the head; indeed, the brain is almost