“I saw someone who looked just like you!”

You’ve probably heard that a few times in your lifetime.

But are people who look exactly like us really possible?

I think it’s safe to say that we all have probably done a double-take when mistaking a random person on the street for someone that we know or you may even have even tapped them on the shoulder and said hi! (only to be given a red face as you have a case of mistaken identity).

doppelgängers

Doppelgänger is German for “double walker” a shadow self that is thought to accompany every person. But does everyone have one of these fabled doppelgängers?

Whether they mean to or not, people subconsciously associate everything new they see with something familiar, especially when it comes to others. Lips, noses, eyes are all compared to the facial features of someone else without even realizing we are doing it. It makes us super curious to see how other people perceive us, but mostly it is intriguing to think that we may not be as unique as we often think we are. After all, how much could someone you’ve never met really look like you, right?!

The Science of Recognition

Here’s what actually happens when your brain recognizes someone: It becomes a small squidgy computer programmer and every aspect of a person’s face represents a code. This system of face recognition would be an efficient way of telling one human from another, except for one glitch.

You might read someone’s face in the order: eyes, mouth, nose. The size and placement of their eyes dictate the way you see the rest of their face. Another person might interpret these features in the order: nose, mouth, eyes. The brain gets the same signals, but the scrambled order places emphasis on the nose instead and adjusts the perception of the rest of the face. In this way, we all see each other differently, making the credibility of doppelgängers a tad suspect.

In a recent study conducted by assistant professor of neurobiology at Cornell University, Michael Sheehan, who specializes in behavioral ecology, found that humans evolved to look physically different from each other because our eyes play such an important role in social interactions. Most animal species use smell or sound to identify each other, but humans rely primarily on sight to differentiate individuals. The study finds that humans are phenomenally good at recognizing faces and that there is a part of the brain specialized for that.

And even more awesome, Microsoft has created a facial recognition tool called ‘Twins or Not’ with the sole purpose of establishing how similar two people look. Give it a try and see if you can find your twin!

The tool lets users compare photos to see how alike facial features are and awards them with a similarity score percentage. Do you have a twin? 

About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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