Monthly Archives: December 2011

A brief thought about prosopagnosia or face-blindness

Today at a public swimming pool our youngest child happily greeted and played with no less than six school friends or acquaintances met previously, all of them met up with separately by our child. Our child had a morning of swimming, fun and friendship. I’m sure our child’s morning would not have been quite as much fun if our child had been unable to recognize faces, as is the case in people who have developmental or acquired prosopagnosia. Either our child identified familiar faces among the crowd and approached others in a friendly manner at the pool or our child was recognized by friends, and I would guess that if our child’s response to being recognized by others had been puzzled indifference, the meetings might not have been as friendly they were.

I can only assume that prosopagnosia must have a negative impact on the social life of anyone of any age, but I’ve got to wonder what impact it might have on the life of a young child. I have no idea whether there are any really effective treatments or learning strategies for children with poor face recognition, but if there are, I think prosopagnosia should be identified as early as possible. I’ve read that face recognition is an ability that develops in childhood and does not reach a peak untill well into adulthood, unlike many other cognitive abilities that peak much earlier, so it seems possible that something could be done to help kids with poor ability in face memory. In the teenage years there will be another important social skill to learn and refine – pretending to not recognize annoying people in public places.

Radio show and article from BBC last year about super-recognizers

There was a great blitz of pop science articles about superrecognizers in 2009, probably the result of a bit of awareness-raising by researchers. More recent mass media stuff on the subject is quite rare, so I thought it worth noting these interesting BBC items from last year. The interesting experiences of Jennifer the super-recognizer and Clare with acquired prosopagnosia are recounted in the Rutherford article. A quote from a researcher:

“One of the most exciting implications of this work is that while we assume we all see the same things, this work suggests that at least in terms of looking at faces we don’t see the same things.”

A quote from the summary of the radio program:

“As many as 1 in 50 people are prosopagnosic but many won’t know they have a problem. What are the implications for border control, policing and eye witness evidence?”

Never forgetting a face
by Pam Rutherford
January 25th 2010
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8474827.stm

Super recognizers
by Claudia Hammond
BBC Radio 4
first broadcast 25 Jan 2010
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q3fbv

The more important posts in this blog

A Most Peculiar Experience (my description of The Strange Phenomenon) https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that? https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/involuntary-method-of-loci-memorization-imlm-%e2%80%93-what-the-heck-is-that/

The Opposite of Benson’s Syndrome? https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/the-opposite-of-bensons-syndrome/

Report on my fine motor task -> visual place memory synaesthesia https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/report-on-my-fine-motor-task-visual-place-memory-synaesthesia/

My Brain Put to the Test https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/my-brain-put-to-the-test/

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year. https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/science-week-2011-%e2%80%93-the-world-of-science-and-me-in-the-past-year/

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper. https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/reflections-on-the-strange-phenomenon-gunning-the-cfmt-letter-personification-in-advertising-and-clue-to-a-possible-cure-for-some-cases-of-prosopagnosia-after-reading-an-old-journal-paper/

A brief report on my synaesthesia experiences that involve concepts as triggers or evoked experiences https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/03/11/a-brief-report-on-my-synaesthesia-experiences-that-involve-concepts-as-triggers-or-evoked-experiences/

A type of synaesthesia which I experience in which non-food words or names automatically evoke the concepts of particular foods: is lexical-gustatory synaesthesia an evolutionary adaptation? https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/a-type-of-synaesthesia-which-i-experience-in-which-words-or-names-automatically-evoke-the-concepts-of-particular-foods/

 

Mo Costandi worth reading

I find that the tweets of the UK science writer Mo Costandi are more worthwhile than most, as is his science blog at the Guardian newspaper.

Neurophilosophy.
blog by Mo Costandi
Guardian
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy

@mocost
by Mo Costandi
Twitter
https://twitter.com/#!/mocost

 

Can autism be seen in the face?

It appears that there are three typical autism faces in boys diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions, which are associated with distinct characteristics.

Kristina Aldridge, Ian D George, Kimberly K Cole, Jordan R Austin, T Nicole Takahashi, Ye Duan and Judith H Miles

Facial phenotypes in subgroups of prepubertal boys with autism spectrum disorders are correlated with clinical phenotypes.

Molecular Autism 2011, 2:15   http://www.molecularautism.com/content/2/1/15   http://www.molecularautism.com/content/pdf/2040-2392-2-15.pdf

Bizarre face perception distortion effect discovered

When I viewed this video I fund that when I kept my eyes to the centre as directed I saw with my peripheral vision grotesquely distorted faces on both sides right from the beginning, an effect that disappeared if I looked squarely at faces at one side or the other. The faces often looked piggish with noticeable nostrils, alien-like with egg-head foreheads or bug-eyed. I’m quite surprised at how fast this effect set in for me. i think other viewers reported varying effects. What do you see when you view the video?

Flashed Face Distortion Effect: Ugly Optical Illusion
Lambert Varias
July 10th 2011
Technabob.
http://technabob.com/blog/2011/07/10/flashed-face-distortion-effect/

Two very interesting articles about the Metropolitan Police and face recognition

Eagle-Eye of the Yard can spot rioters by their ears
by Jack Grimston
Sunday Times, The, 20.11.2011, p12,13-12,13, 1; Language: EN
Section: News Edition: 01
EBSCOhost Accession number 7EH53940939
http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/

This newspaper article from last month is is behind a paywall, so if you don’t have a subscription to this British newspaper, and you do have access to the EBSCOhost online media article service through a public or academic library, you could try logging on to it and in the search box type in “AN 7EH53940939”.

There is much fascinating information in this article about an elite squad of super-recognizers working in London’s Metropolitan Police force to identify faces in CCTV recordings of the England riots. Face recognition technology gets a surprisingly poor review in this article.

Face recognition technology fails to find UK rioters
by Niall Firth
New Scientist
18 August 2011
Magazine issue 2826 August 20th 2011 page 19.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128266.000-face-recognition-technology-fails-to-find-uk-rioters.html

Super-recognizers are not mentioned in this earlier article about the Metropolitan Police identifying faces in CCTV recordings of the England riots, which focuses instead on the limitations and development of face recognition technology.

Gender should be the only difference between these faces

The photograph at the beginning of the Boston Globe news story detailed below is particularly interesting to me, a person who has a natural interest in faces, because the two faces photographed are probably the world’s only example of a set of two human faces in which the only difference between their faces should be a gender-related difference. I don’t know if there are any other sets of identical twins in the world in which one and only one twin is a transgender person who has been treated with a puberty-blocking medication which halts the face-sculpting effects of sex hormones, leaving one twin on the usual developmental trajectory and the other retaining a face that could be judged to be of the opposite gender to the one that both twins were born with. In a nutshell, these are identical twins of different genders. Advances in the way that transgendered people are treated by the medical profession has made the impossible possible. The life story of Nicole Maines (formerly Wyatt Maines) and Jonas Maines and their family is something remarkable. I recommend this fascinating news article.

For over a year I have been on a quest to get a definite answer to the question of whether or not I am a super-recognizer, after unexpectedly getting perfect scores on some face recognition tests. One thing that is possibly a characteristic of a superrecognizer’s perceptions of faces is that I often involuntarily notice that the face of a person who is new to me looks similar to the face of a person whose face is in my memory, sometimes very old memories. This is very much like the experience of recognition of the face of the same person seen on two different occasions. The thing that I find interesting about my pseudo-recognition of a new face is that it transcends gender (like the considerable remaining similarities in the appearances of the faces of Jonas and Nicole). I’m just as likely to notice close similarity between the face of a new person and a face in my memory that is of the opposite gender as I’m likely to notice a close similarity between memorized and newly seen faces of people of the same gender. It’s not that I’m blind to gender, but my mind is able to process gender characteristics of faces and the essential genetically based unique “character” of faces separately, and keep these different types of influence on the appearance of faces quite separate in my thinking. Some examples of this noticing of cross-gender facial similarity would be the time when I was watching a documentary about the Australian rock band The Angels staging a comeback tour with aged and conflicted performers. I was struck by a similarity between the face of Doc Neeson and one of the older matriarchs of our family, who also had Celtic heritage. I hope Mr Neeson never reads this. Another example would be the time when I was viewing a painting by Salvador Dali in which he used an image of the face of the writer Voltaire, in an elderly and cheerful state. Voltaire’s face reminded me so much of the face, and the smile, of another of our family’s matriarchs, who like Voltaire was born in Europe. I think this resemblance owes more to a common lack of teeth and advanced age and a good mood in spite of these things, than it owes to a huge resemblance between unique facial appearance. Both female matriarchs had wide faces. I believe that The Strange Phenomenon, which I described in the first post in this blog, is another example of involuntarily seeing a cross-gender facial resemblance.

I’m also able to process the appearance of a face resulting from colouring quite separately from the look of the actual face. I believe other people are more influenced by things like skin colour, eye colour and hair when recognizing people than I am. My focus is on the face. Lots of people believe there is a close resemblance between the actress Tilda Swinton and the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I think these people are overly influenced by the redhead thing. When I look at Swinton I think “pale and thin” rather than “Gillard-like”.

Perhaps a high degree of attention to features of appearance other than the pure look of a face is a warning sign of poor face memory. We know that prosopagnosics often identify people by non-facial aspects of appearance such as clothes, hair and glasses. Do they also place greater emphasis on colouring, age and gender, or do they also have also trouble processing these aspects of personal appearance?

Led by the child who simply knew.

by Bella English
Boston Globe
December 11, 2011
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html?s_campaign=sm_tw

Wikipedia contributors, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=461577243 (accessed December 14, 2011).

Tilda Swinton totally looks like Julia Gillard (Australian PM)  http://totallylookslike.icanhascheezburger.com/2010/10/07/tilda-swinton-julia-gillard-australian-pm/

Memory enthusiasts discuss improving performance on the CFMT – a tip for prosopagnosia researchers?

I’ve just happened across a very short but interesting discussion thread at an online forum for people who are interested in memory techniques. I guess this might include people who take part in formal memory competitions and who employ memory techniques such as the Method of Loci. Two members have discussed the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). They both claim to have attained very good scores (like myself) and both employed non-cheating memory strategies to at least some degree in their attempts at the test. I find this interesting for a couple of reasons. The strategy that they both apparently independently hit upon, the idea of giving imaginary names to the faces that had to be memorized could possibly be seen as a technique of adding personification or personality traits to their memories of the faces of complete stranges with neutral expressions. One of the memory enthusiasts gave the faces silly made-up names, which I would assume would be references to imagined personality characteristics, ideas that are possibly based on impressionistic, almost instant emotional interpretations of the appearance of the faces. If this is the technique used by these memory enthusiasts that would be interesting, because that is pretty much what I naturally did when I first did that test, but without giving names ot the faces, and I got a perfect score on the test. I believe this has something to do with the ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia (OLP) that I have experienced for as long as I can remember.

My guess is that these memory enthusiasts employed this type of strategy because it has some elements in common with the ancient and proven method of loci memory technique. In this technique memory performance in memorizing a large set of meaningless data is enhanced by converting the information to be memorized into a more emotionally striking or interesting visual format and these elements to be memorized are then mentally placed into a previously memorized visual-spatial context. A part of this strategy involves converting the emotionally neutral and monotonous information to be rememberd into a more memorable format. I would argue that personifiying a large set of bland faces of strangers by ascribing imaginary names or personality traits to each of them is doing pretty much the same thing. I have argued in a previous post in this blog that the technique successfully and consciously employed by a prosopagnosic that enhanced his performance in the CFMT in a formal study is similar to my spontaneously-employed personification of the faces when I did the same test. This reportedly face-blind study subject, who was given the anonymous name of M57, figured out his own method of adding an emotional dimension to the faces to be memorized, after having done a number of face recognition tests previously. Is this an example of a super-recognizer with OLP, a prosopagnosic and two memory buffs independently employing similar techiques to enhance performance on the same test? That would be interesting.

Mnemotechnics.org   Cambridge Face Memory Test   http://mnemotechnics.org/x/forums/cambridge-face-memory-test-740.html

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper.   https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/reflections-on-the-strange-phenomenon-gunning-the-cfmt-letter-personification-in-advertising-and-clue-to-a-possible-cure-for-some-cases-of-prosopagnosia-after-reading-an-old-journal-paper/

Duchaine, Brad & Nakayama, Ken The Cambridge Face Memory Test: Results for neurologically intact individuals and an investigation of its validity using inverted face stimuli and prosopagnosic participants. Neuropsychologia 44 (2006) 576–585. http://visionlab.harvard.edu/members/ken/Ken%20papers%20for%20web%20page/137neuropsychologiaDuchaine2006.pdf

Recognizing relatedness in the face – could a super-recognizer perform better than software?

I believe that I probably could out-perform both of the interesting kinship recognition computer programs that are discussed in this most interesting recent article in New Scientist magazine, but there is still a lot to be learned from the researchers’ efforts to develop software that can detect whether two people in photographs are related. The first program described in this article had a success rate of 68% in detecting parent-child matches, the second program a 71% success rate, and people (presumably with average ability in face recognition) had a success rate of 67%. I’d love to see a similar study done with super-recognizers compared to normal human controls or pitted against a computer program. My money would be on nature’s best, rather than the latest technology.

It’s interesting to note that the first program described uses a method which I think is very different to natural face recognition, analysing fine details of the picture, while human face recognition is thought to be a process of identifying an overall pattern rather than looking at the picture piece-by-piece. The focus on details of this program appears to give the program a fair degree of robustness and flexibility in dealing with variations in the appearance of faces in photos. As researchers have found in another study (published online in the journal Cognition) , there can be considerable variability in the appearance of the same face in different photographs, and while people who are familiar with a face are able to identify the same face in different photos, people who were unfamiliar with that face did not have whatever it takes to be able to overcome variations among different photos of the same person to identify the photos as being of the same person. Clearly there is something in the memory of a person who is familiar with a face which gives their ability to recognize that face a great robustness and flexibility. I wonder what it is?

A quote from the New Scientist article: “Lu reckons that improved algorithms could be used to help determine kinship when DNA testing isn’t an option. “It can also help refugees find dispersed family members,” he suggests.” I believe that with my well above average ability in face recognition I would probably perform well in these types of tasks. I would love to work in a job or a business in which I was identifying faces or picking out related people from photographs or identifying people who have a genetic similarity (I can be contacted through leaving a comment on a blog post). Face recognition is an ability with applications that go way beyond personal socializing. Superior face recognition could be useful in many important areas of work, including law enforcement, private detective work, social work (working with adopted people or displaced families) and medicine (identifying genetic syndromes), and it appears that the current state of technological development of face photograph recognition technology is at a pretty basic level, only marginally better than the ability of the average person. In contrast, super-recognizers have a face recognition ability that far exceeds that of normal people, and I have good reason to believe that I could be a superrecognizer. I feel quite confident about my ability to detect kinship or genetic similarity from looking at people’s faces because I believe that is probably what I was involuntarily doing when I experienced The Strange Phenomenon, which I have described in the first post in this blog. Last month the British Sunday Times newspaper reported that London’s Metropolitan Police force have an elite squad of super-recognizers who have proven to be much more useful than face recogition technology. “The Met” are actively searching for more superrecognizers within their ranks to help with the huge task of identifying faces in many hours of CCTV images of the English riots. It seems odd to me that so much research is being done on creating and improving technology in face recognition when we have only just started to understand the naturally-occuring human ability in face recognition that has always existed.

Facial recognition software spots family resemblance
7 December 2011 by Kate McAlpine
Magazine issue 2842
New Scientist
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228424.900-facial-recognition-software-spots-family-resemblance.html

Rob Jenkins, David White, Xandra Van Montfort, A. Mike Burton Variability in photos of the same face. Cognition. Available online 3 September 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027711002022

A Most Peculiar Experience  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Face photographs unsuitable as proof of identity due to within-person variability?  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/face-photographs-unsuitable-as-proof-of-identity-due-to-within-person-variability/