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Below is a snapshot of an article linked from LinkedIn today.

What I find more disturbing than the topic at hand is the featured image used to head up the article.

Clearly it's important to provide suitable images to match content.

But why is a face with no features so disturbing?

Is facial recognition so deeply embedded into our subconscious that the inability to distinguish any features alerts us in some way?

Is it the deepest ravine of the uncanny valley?

enter image description here

Or is it just me? I mean it's not me obviously, in the image... is it just me that finds it disturbing?

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migrated from Jan 23 '14 at 13:44

This question came from our site for user experience researchers and experts.

Maybe it's you. You are seeing yourself in the picture. (of course, I didn't mean you - specifically; it can be me, anybody) – VividD Jan 23 '14 at 11:09
This question appears to be off-topic because it belongs on CogSci. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jan 23 '14 at 11:41
I didn't think twice about the face. What is disturbing is that I am not as smart as these CEOs - 15M for nothing just about breaks the laws of nature and science. – Greg McNulty Jan 23 '14 at 20:55
up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's from fear sprung out of the inability to clearly identify and interpret something and from that know how to react to it.

There's something skewed with what you see, something deviating from your mental model of what a face (in this example) looks like. That makes us perceive it as something unknown, and what's unknown is also perceived as unpredictable and induces an uneasiness and discomfort.

The reason why this is unpleasant:

enter image description here

But this isn't:

enter image description here

Is because the latter is clearly an illustration and can be subconsciously dismissed as something static/dead, and by that predictable and nonthreatening. In the first image we have a hard time identifying what it is we see, whether it's something that's alive or if it's dead. This makes us uncomfortable since we don't know how we should react to it, even if it's just an image.

Being confronted by it in real life would without a doubt be very disturbing since then there is no escape, it's very real, very unknown and therefore very unpredictable.

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It's because of the difficulty of traversing the uncanny valley.

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You don't transverse the uncanny valley. It's a valley because as you try to make something look like a human being, there is a ridge in which the object is scary/strange. Animal toys don't look at all like humans, so you empathize with them. Humanoid characters look like humans but they "don't feel right", and sometimes you can't even understand why you feel that way. – jff Jan 23 '14 at 11:46
i agree with the comment above. I think that this rather has got to do with the fact that you remove the properties that makes you recognize a person as a human being. This is often used in horror movies, where the eyes, the mouth or other parts from the face are removed by CGI. – Henrik Ekblom Jan 23 '14 at 12:51

There is a similar face possible in reality. It is a victim of burning who later received face transplantation. Looking at it is shocking. Maybe it leads to imagining the suffering? I am not posting it here—it is not pretty—but see this link.

Edit: Actually, my example seems to be covered by uncanny valley: "Examples can be found in the fields of ... and in medical fields such as burn reconstruction ... and plastic surgery".

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