Why might super-recognizer abilities have evolved?

There are a number of general areas and applications of face perception that I believe must be enhanced or superior in people who have excellent face recognition ability (super-recognizers?):

1. Identifying the same individual human on different occasions – face recognition

2. Identifying one’s own blood relatives or non-relatives, including a male adult perceiving whether or not an infant is one’s own genetic offspring or not. Things like hair and eye colour don’t always “breed true” and aren’t very specific, while facial features are much more distinctive and numerous.

3. Identifying blood ties among others

4. Identifying individuals who have unusual genetics or genetic anomalies, including genetic syndromes that might impact on the appearance of the face and/or the body, and also health, behaviour, intellect and/or personality

What possible significance do each of these applications of face perception have in terms of natural selection?

1. Keeping track of who does what (to who)…. Judging the character of individuals by the observed actions of individuals over a number of different interactions or observations.

2. Being able to judge the degree of relatedness of others in relation to one’s self must surely be a very useful ability in evolutionary biology. One of the biggest losers in the game of “selfish genes” is the cuckold who mistakenly raises another guy’s kids as though they are his own. He not only misses out on passing on his genes to the next generation, but he also gives two cheaters a free ride, genetically speaking, and thus also possibly misses out on the chance of devoting his resources to his own blood relatives who might not be his own offspring (kin selection). From the Wikipedia, on kin recognition: “…. if individuals have the capacity to recognize kin (kin recognition) and to adjust their behaviour on the basis of kinship (kin discrimination), then the average relatedness of the recipients of altruism could be high enough for this to be favoured.” According to the Wikipedia birds even have powers of egg recognition that can be used in response to the cuckoo-type scenario of brood parasitism: “Recognition of parasitic eggs is based on identifying pattern differences or changes in the number of eggs.”

3. Identifying blood ties among others will give a few clues about the probable loyalties and alliances of others, and it may also help to predict the behaviour of others based on observed behavioural familial traits.

4.  Identifying individuals who have genetic anomalies or unusual genetics could possibly be useful for many reasons. Such individuals might be particularly hard to predict about in terms of health, longevity, behaviour or abilities (impaired or enhanced abilities). One may wish to avoid mating with such risky stock, or to the contrary. One may wish to avoid forming trusting relationships (peer or unequal) with such individuals. Such individuals might be useful allies because they diversify the skill base of the team. Such individuals might be highly exploitable. Such individuals might bring interesting new genes to the gene pool of the family/tribe.

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