Page last updated at 23:25 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009 00:25 UK

Barcodes 'help face recognition'

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando was recognisable even after the images were distorted

Faces are made up of "barcodes" which help us recognise each other, according to scientists.

The researchers at Stirling University and UCL manipulated the faces of celebrities such as Marlon Brando and George Clooney for their study.

Their results suggested that most of the information needed to identify someone could be found in the lines formed by the eyebrows, eyes and lips.

They hope their research will help improve face recognition software.

'Horizontal stripes'

Professor Roger Watt from the University of Stirling and Dr Steven Dakin at UCL stripped photographs of their vertical features and found that the people in their study could still be recognised.

Further analysis suggested that the features could be simplified into black and white lines of information - like a barcode.

Dr Dakin explained: "Exposed skin on our forehead and cheeks tends to be shiny whilst our eyebrows and lips and the shadows cast in the eye sockets and under the nose tend to be darker."

"The resulting horizontal stripes of information are reminiscent of a supermarket barcode."

The scientists illustrated their point using images of Marlon Brando.

When his face was squashed or stretched, or viewed from an angle, or cast in shadow he was still recognisable, and the barcode representation remained relatively unchanged.

Dr Dakin feels that their research could help in the development of more sophisticated facial recognition software, especially in crowds.

"To improve face recognition software, we need to look towards biology and see how we [people] have solved the problem," he said.

"If we are looking for barcode-like images to tell us that 'this is a face', then software could be developed to mimic this skill."

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