Close Encounters of the Facial Kind: Are UFO Alien Faces an Inborn Facial Recognition Template?

By Malmstrom, Frederick V. | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Close Encounters of the Facial Kind: Are UFO Alien Faces an Inborn Facial Recognition Template?


Malmstrom, Frederick V., Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


THE DESCRIPTIONS OF ALIEN FACES historically reported by UFO abductees are almost boringly uniform. Long before "close encounters" became a catchword in the ufologist's vocabulary, self-proclaimed UFO abductees described their abductors as bulbous-headed humanoids equipped with oversized, wraparound eyes, vertical double-slit nostrils and gray skin. Is there another explanation for this uniformity of features besides the most obvious--that it is a description of an actual alien race?

Reports of Aliens

The archetypical alien face most commonly reported by abductees is usually recalled while the victim is in a hypnagogic half-dream state, or else under hypnotic regression. Figure 1 below shows a typical face drawn by a self-claimed UFO abductee who was interviewed by psychologist Robert A. Baker in 1993. Figure 2 shows another typical alien face drawn by one of my abductee clients.

[FIGURES 1-2 OMITTED]

In 1979, my colleague Richard Coffman and I published a study of the bodily dimensions of reported aliens. (1) Our random sample of 30 reported aliens revealed that 100% were humanoid in shape and stood at a median height of 155 cm (60 inches)--a height close to that of the average woman. In addition, 80% of our sample had the typical UFO face: prominent, somewhat diagonally oriented eyes, double-slit nostrils and little or no evidence of a mouth.

Our most telling finding was that most of our alien encounters were reported by subjects who admitted to either being in a hypnagogic state (that nether region between sleep and wakefulness) at the time, or else they were experiencing hypnotic regression. For instance, the world-famous abduction of a New Hampshire couple, Betty and Barney Hill (Betty was once a neighbor of mine) was not reported by them immediately after it happened. They recalled the abduction several weeks later, and then only when prompted to do so under the influence of hypnotic regression. (2)

The Inborn Visual Recognition Template

Many newborn animals are equipped with inborn visual recognition templates. It has been well over a half century since ethololgist Niko Tinbergen found that newly hatched chicks would automatically cower from shadow patterns that resembled predators (such as hawks). These same chicks ignored shadow patterns that matched nonpredators (such as geese). (3)

Human facial recognition is a highly specialized ability, and it seems to be pre-wired before birth in specific visual processing areas of the brain. However, the human newborn ability to distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces does not develop in infants until about two months of age. (4) Up to that time, an infant will respond favorably to nearly any face, familiar or unfamiliar, normal or bizarre, mother or Halloween mask. Of course, all these human-type faces seem to share two quite generalized and nonspecific features, namely a pair of eyes and a nose.

The singular feature that seems to grab the baby's attention is the presence of two large horizontally arranged spots or "eyes." Infants seem to ignore one or three spots. Furthermore, the pioneer pupillometry researcher Eckhard Hess reported that infants paid especially close attention to the size of the "pupils" within these eyes. Larger pupils attracted more infant attention than smaller ones. (5) The visual presentation that gathered most infants' attention was the dual large-pupil schematic shown in Figure 3.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

The Prototype Female Face

Rather than using spots or schematic pupils, I.W.R. Bushnell utilized a "prototype" young female face, one for which the hair and ear outline of the face was covered with white cloth, such as that shown in Figure 4. (6) Newborn infants seemed not to discriminate between these prototype faces, although they afterwards quickly learned to discriminate between faces with the added cue of a hair outline. However, the ability to recognize this prototype hairless and earless face is reportedly located in the hippocampus, a noncortical area of the brain. …

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