Ch-Ch-Ch-Chernoff


Want to read about one of the weirdest types of data visualization? Then you want to read about Chernoff faces!

Chernoff faces are as weird as they sound. The idea is to represent different variables as features on a human face. For example, a person’s income could be represented by a Chernoff mouth, with a smile indicating higher incomes and a frown indicating lower incomes. Simultaneously, a person’s health could be represented by Chernoff eyes, with brighter and wider eyes corresponding to good health and tired, listless eyes corresponding to poor health. The more variables there are, the more facial components can be manipulated.

And if you think that sounds like it gets weird, it does:

07-29-2016

(source)

The original motivation for Chernoff faces was that humans are basically primed to respond to and interpret faces and face-shaped things. Since we’re so good at interpreting faces, let’s turn data into faces so that we become good at interpreting the data, right?

Well, not really.

One of the main criticisms of Chernoff faces that is mentioned in the above article is that humans respond to faces “as a whole” rather than piece-by-piece. For example, when we look at two faces that differ only in the position of the eyebrows (maybe one has lowered eyebrows and the other has raised eyebrows), we don’t really think of the difference in that way. We think of the faces overall as having different expressions and thus different interpretations. We don’t focus on the eyebrows alone—we focus on the “whole package.”

While this is all well and good for actual faces, it actually makes interpreting changes in variables difficult to understand if those changes are represented by one or two changes on a Chernoff face.

Anyway. It’s actually a really interesting article discussing a really interesting and unique data presentation method. Give it a read!

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