Investigating the minds of six supers

Do you have “enhanced generalised visuo-cognitive or socio-emotional processes”, or “enhanced holistic processing”? Personal questions, I know.

I’ve got to admit I enjoy reading research reports about mental processes that work well, sound skills, the right-hand reach of the bell curve in ability, that kind of thing. There are thousands and thousands of journal papers and case studies and reviews of research on illness, disability, morbidity, insanity, disease, abnormality, impairment etc. I know it is all important, but also a bit depressing. Doesn’t it make sense that if you want to figure out how something works, you study exemplars that work really well, or perform one task really well, as well as ones that don’t? It makes sense to me.

Bobak, A. K., Bennetts, R. J., Parris, B. A., Jansari, A., & Bate, S. (2016). An In-depth Cognitive Examination of Individuals with Superior Face Recognition Skills. Cortex. In Press. Available online 15 May 2016.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945216301186

 

Dr Kevin Mitchell explains how genetics works with learning in the development of synaesthesia

My blog has two main themes, and one of them is exploring the relationship between super-recognition and synaesthesia. This theme was the main point of the very first posting in this blog, a description of an unusual experience of mine, which opened up a wonderful journey of exploring undiscovered relationships between interesting concepts in neuroscience, psychology and immunology. In my blog I have also asserted that there’s a reason why both synaesthesia and special abilities in reading and literacy-based skills seem to run in my family tree.

If you were wondering how the brain-based characteristics of super-recognition, synaesthesia, precocious reading and superior ability in reading and writing might be connected, I recommend that you have a read of this blog posting from Dr Kevin Mitchell, a researcher in developmental neurogenetics based in Ireland.

Mitchell, Kevin Schema formation in synaesthesia. Wiring the Brain. (blog) May 10th 2016.

http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2016/05/schema-formation-in-synaesthesia.html

 

Australian super-recognizer suffers from social embarrassment after misidentifying stranger as an acquaintance

The amazing thing is that I had earlier seen the acquaitance at the same event, and I hadn’t noticed a difference in hair colour (different hue, same degree of darkness) between the two, possibly because I focus on faces and voices more than hair.

How did this error happen? Well, the stranger was a sibling of the acquaintance, of the same gender, build, age and hairstyle as the acquaintance, and both were attending the same event, and both have quite distinctive faces with a strong family resemblance in the entire face, not just in a couple of features. The family resemblance brings the siblings’ faces closer in similarity of appearance, while the shared distinctiveness of their faces pushes them away from resembling the faces of any randomly-chosen face of an unrelated person of the same race, age and gender. I would even argue that my misidentification was in fact a correct identification of pretty much the same face that happens to be shared by two people rather than the one individual, as is normally the case with faces, rather like the situation in which you meet by chance the twin of a person you know when you weren’t aware that the person you know has a twin. No, the siblings both now known to me are not twins. Yes, other people have made the same mistake in identification.

Is there anything to be learned from this mistake? I guess it shows that at least in my case, super-recognition is not about having a photographic memory or a memory for every single visual detail, but is more to do with detecting similarity, not just in one or a few visible features, but in an entire pattern made up of features, which as a whole can be distinctive, memorable and identifiable. Is super-recognition a superiority in memory for visual patterns?

Story on super-recognizers on Australian radio with link to test

This story with an interview of Australian researcher Dr David White was broadcast last year. I’m not actively trawling for items about super-recognition to post about here, so I only just came across it by chance.

Readers of this blog might be interested in the download linked to from the RN web page for the story, which is a difficult face matching test. I’ll give you a tip and advise to only look at the faces as you go and record your own answers as you go, and check them later.  I got only five out of eight correct.

Mackenzie, Michael The secret powers of the super-recognisers. RN Afternoons. September 2nd 2015.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rnafternoons/super-recogniser/6744260

 

Facial recognition technology can be foiled with a photograph?

Marr, Chris Retinal scans and fingerprint checks: high tech or high risk? Science Network. April 22nd 2016.

http://www.sciencewa.net.au/topics/technology-a-innovation/item/4145-retinal-scans-and-fingerprint-checks-high-tech-or-high-risk#k2Container

 

Another fascinating article about the important talents of supers

Robertson, David James (2016) Could super recognisers be the latest weapon in the war on terror? The Conversation. March 25th 2016.

https://theconversation.com/could-super-recognisers-be-the-latest-weapon-in-the-war-on-terror-56772

And don’t forget to check out the comments, one identifying a super-recognizer character in detective story literature.

 

Harts seems to be describing musical synaesthesias

The Indian born singer-songwriter who was invited to hang out and jam with Prince. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Broadcast: 22/04/2016 on Lateline
Reporter: Simon Smithers

http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2015/s4448965.htm

I was just watching Lateline on ABC television (Australian), and following the passing of the legendary American musician Prince Lateline ran a story about the young Australian musician Harts who has been a guest of Prince and has also been mentored by the famous musician. Both musicians clearly share a major influence from the late synaesthete guitarist Jimi Hendrix. In the Lateline story, which is yet to be posted for viewing at the Lateline website, Harts described associations between colours, textures and music that is clearly synaesthesia. It seems to be a very common thing for synaesthetes to experience coloured music, and synaesthesia itself is a quite common phenomenon so the fact that Harts seems to be a synaesthete is not hard to believe or that big a deal. I do think it is interesting though. Harts, Prince and Hendrix all typify the notion of the musically creative individual, as artists following their own creative paths, playing a style of music that is full of colour and innovation and improvisation. Synaesthesia is thought to be linked to creativity. Could even be true.

I’m not an expert in music but I think the music of all three would all be regarded as psychedelic rock, a genre of music that has fascinated me since I was a child despite no cultural nor family influences pushing me in that direction. The music that I grew up listening to was cheesy nonsense that my folks enjoyed, hideous trad jazz, 1970s musicals, theatre organ music, disco….. And I survived! The closest things to psychedelia that I heard as a child was early electronic music and psychedelic rock of the 60s and 70s played on the radio, including the Beatles later stuff. Right until my 5th decade I hadn’t realised I had been a mad fan of psychedelic rock all my life until I started reading music reviews on Allmusic, and found that a the very disparate collection of musicians and groups who are my musical favourites all produced some music that had been categorized as psychedelic, even a favourite Australian musician Ed Kuepper, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently. Colourful as it might be, the colours aren’t the reason why I enjoy this type of music. I think the appeal is the strange and otherworldly feelings evoked by the music; the mesmerizing repetition, the emotionalism, the surprising twists, the fear and the awe. Maybe you need to have a hyperconnected brain to get all this out of mere sequences of sounds.

I’d bet my hat that the colourful and creative purple Prince was also a synaesthete, one way or another, but unless he spoke about it in the past we will never know.

New developmental prosopagnosia research hot off the web

While I was looking at the website of the Journal of Neuroscience I found this interesting and important free access article:

Michael Lohse, Lucia Garrido, Jon Driver, Raymond J. Dolan, Bradley C. Duchaine, and Nicholas Furl Effective Connectivity from Early Visual Cortex to Posterior Occipitotemporal Face Areas Supports Face Selectivity and Predicts Developmental Prosopagnosia. Journal of Neuroscience. 30 March 2016, 36(13): 3821-3828; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3621-15.2016

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/13/3821.full.pdf+html

What is face selectivity? I’ll have to do a bit of study on that.

For me the findings of this study are not surprising, even though there are apparently new ideas in this paper about face selectivity and developmental prosopagnosia (DP). As a synaesthete who also appears to be a “super-recognizer” of faces from a family in which precociously high levels of literacy skills are found, I firmly believe that the common thread that runs through synaesthesia, literacy skills and face memory is good to exceptional connectivity inside the brain. My ideas are supported by research that has linked synaesthesia with hyper-connectivity, and has linked dyslexia and DP with problems with connectivity.

Interesting research on synapses and the neurobiology of forgetting supports model of dementia that appears to compete with mine

The role of GluA2-containing AMPA receptors in sustaining long-term memories and in natural forgetting has been studied by an international team of researchers. They and other researchers have speculated that this process could be involved in the development of dementia. I think they are wrong. I believe that there is a distinction between normal, adaptive forgetting and the forgetfulness of dementia that results from the destruction of the brain. I have previously in this blog outlined my original ideas about the immune system, complement, synaptic pruning and a type of dementia that goes by the names of PCa or Benson’s syndrome. My money is still on high levels of complement as the prime suspect for dementia of the rear parts of the brain. Regarding Alzheimer’s, I still favour the “Prion Hypothesis” but I also understand that obesity and diabetes 2 can damage the brain. Nevertheless, I still find this recently-published piece of research interesting because it seems to shows that forgetting isn’t just the failure of some process, it is a process in itself. I also find it interesting that real memory researchers don’t write about or make sweeping statements about memory in general, they study and write about specific types of memory.

Paddock, Catharine Brain study yields clues about ‘natural forgetting of long-term memories’ http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308549.php

Paola Virginia Migues, Lidong Liu, Georgina E. B. Archbold, Einar Ö. Einarsson, Jacinda Wong, Kyra BonasiaSeung Hyun Ko, Yu Tian Wang, and Oliver Hardt Blocking Synaptic Removal of GluA2-Containing AMPA Receptors Prevents the Natural Forgetting of Long-Term Memories. Journal of Neuroscience.  23 March 2016, 36(12):34813494; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3333-15.2016

http://www.jneurosci.org/content/36/12/3481.short?sid=e7babe8d-7f41-4f13-91ca-ae7f9a68afa0

 

Lecture by world-class researcher about super-recognition and prosopagnosia

This talk or lecture by Professor Nancy Kanwisher is not new and the content will be nothing new to regular readers of this blog, but it is a nice introduction to the concepts of prosopagnosia, super-recognizers and the spectrum theory of face recognition ability, which has been challenged to a degree in a recent paper. I also like the little comment about the experience of being a “smart” student in high school. As a parent of gifted kids I know all about that stuff.

Individual differences in face recognition and developmental prosopagnosia

http://nancysbraintalks.mit.edu/video/individual-differences-face-recognition-and-developmental-prosopagnosia

https://youtu.be/_L5ESU9oNh4

See more at:

Nancy’s Brain Talks

http://nancysbraintalks.mit.edu/video/individual-differences-face-recognition-and-developmental-prosopagnosia#sthash.nqN5I24Q.dpuf

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.