A link between autism and super-recognizer ability, or am I reading this wrong?

I was just having a look at an Australian/UK study of face recogniton ability that was published last year in the open-access science journal PLoS One. The subjects in one of the two studies reported in this paper were parents of autistic kids, and they were tested with the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). The CFMT happens to be one of the tests that were used in the 2009 paper by Russell, Duchaine and Nakayama that established the concept of the super-recognizer. There are a couple of problems with comparing scores between these different papers – the 2009 paper used both the short and long forms of the CFMT and gave raw scores, while the 2010 paper used only the 72 question short form of the CFMT and gave age-standardized z-scores based on a study of the Australian population. But having looked at the 2009 study I don’t think the long form does that much better a job of sorting the super-recognizers from the controls than the short form does.

I’m happy to stand corrected, but to my eye it looks as though there is an interesting score in the CFMT reported in Figure 2 of the 2010 paper. If the vertical axis is in standard deviations then I guess that the top score from a father of an autistic child that is nearly level with the number two is close to super-recognizer class. He almost looks like an outlier. According to the authors of the 2010 paper, none of the parents of autistic kids in this study scored in the range of prosopagnosics, who apparently typically score less than two standard deviations below the control mean.

Definitions of prosopagnosiacs and super-recognizers can be found in the 2009 paper; “Most developmental prosopagnosics we have tested in our laboratories score around 2–3 SDs below normal on the CFMT short form. In comparison, 3 super-recognizers scored around 2 SDs above the mean on the CFMT long form.” It appears that the short and long forms of the CFMT are comparable with regard to SDs and face-blindness, and also I presume with regard to super-recognizers. What would really be interesting would be to see what kinds of scores the autistic kids would get on these tests.


Wilson CE, Freeman P, Brock J, Burton AM, Palermo R (2010) Facial Identity Recognition in the Broader Autism Phenotype. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12876. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012876

Russell R, Duchaine B, Nakayama K Super-recognizers: people with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 2009 Apr;16(2):252-7. http://pbr.psychonomic-journals.org/content/16/2/252.full.pdf      http://visionlab.harvard.edu/members/ken/Ken%20papers%20for%20web%20page/157Russell_supersPBR.pdf

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