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Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Psychology of the Face

My newspaper provides me with breaking news: psychologists have found out that the preference for certain faces over other faces is not genetically determined, nor has it to do with the surroundings in which one grows up. Even twins - sharing genes as well as their childhood context - differ in face preference for some 50 percent. Some basic preferences are widely shared (big eyes, symmetrical face) but the researchers state that "probably very subtle, personal experiences" are crucial in differences in face preferences.

One wonders what made psychologists think in the first place that face preferences are determined by genes or context, or anything else than individual biography (which is, by nature, social, and is of course based on - but not explainable through - biology).

I can only explain it because psychology, in the end, tries to explain away the random - sociologists woud probably say 'contingent' - agency of individuals in favor of their mechanistic world view, hoping to become able to predict individual behavior in order to master it. A world view stemming from the natural sciences and leading to a continuous search in experimental research designs for cause-and-effect-chains, all of which eventually leads to the determinism so characteristic of our times: "It's not me, it's my context, my genes, my brain, my whatever - but not me."

The idea that if reality would repeat itself people would probably behave the same again. Which might be true, but it leaves out the basic fact that reality is about one zillion times too complex to repeat itself. It is not going to happen (unless God wants it to happen - which seems unlikely for many reasons). So here is nothing to predict, really - you may get insight in tendencies people have in certain contexts, but that's about it.

And it explains again why I am not a psychologist but rather, if anything, an ethnomusicologist, an anthropologist: because I believe the best we can do when it comes to real life matters is observing carefully, taking individuals seriously, aiming not for explanation but for careful description and tentative understanding.

Which is something totally different, and ambitious enough, really.

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