Monthly Archives: February 2012

Another interesting sculpture at Piney Lakes Sensory Playground

Can letters of the alphabet be people? This lower-case letter E has ears, so I guess it must be true! This is a photo of another sculpture at Piney Lakes which could be interpreted as an exploration of the experience of ordinal linguistic personification synaesthesia. I’d like to make it clear that these sculptures are not my work, and I have no idea whether the artist who created these delightful works was a synesthete. My photos are a few years old, so be advised that they might not reflect how things currently are at this location.

I haven’t been to the Piney Lakes Sensory Playground for a few years, but as I remember it, it was a delightful playground for kids of a range of ages, and quite unique among Perth playgrounds because of it’s striking and amusing top-quality sculptures in a range of styles, many of them usable as play props, and it was also outstanding for the way that the landscape of the area is interesting and an adventure for younger kids and a play element in it’s own right. There was one of those big climbing-net things in the inner area of the playground, and a sand area and a fairly limited range of moving play equipment. Beyond the playground were some fake lakes with frogs (they sounded like tiny crinias, heard but not seen), bike paths and a boardwalk, and beyond the grassed area there was natural bushland surrounding the actual swampy small lake, which had a variety of interesting sculptures around it. This whole area could have changed since then. I hope it hasn’t.

The set of sculptures depicting letters of the alphabet at the Pinely Lakes playground are there as a word puzzle for the children to search for, so I guess one can assume that this was the only inspiration for their creation, and personification synaesthesia might have had nothing to do with it. Whatever the case, as a synaesthete who involuntarily sees letters as personified with characteristics such as genders and personalities, and also displaying bodily orientations and sometimes facial expressions and also their own colours (grapheme colour synaesthesia), I am charmed by the way that many of the letter sculptures at Piney Lakes are congruent with my own synaesthesia. The ears on the silvery lower case letter E sculpture are placed in just the right spot for the letter to depict something like a smiling face facing toward what I see as the right side of the text. This is how I see the letter E personified, but the silver colour is not congruent with my colour for the letter E. The letter Y at the playground is completely congruent with my synaesthesia, being bright yellow and of an active and playful disposition. I very much enjoy that colourful sculpture. There are two letter Ss at the playground, one in a colour that is the same as my letter S, but written backwards, the other delightfully psychedelic and imposing. The giant O is also pretty-much “the right colour”. You can see why I like this place so much! I think of it as “Synaesthesia Park”, a playground of the mind.

A silvery letter E with ears

A sculpture that looks like synaesthesia at Piney Lakes Sensory Playground

This sculpture is oddly congruent with my ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia and my grapheme-colour synaesthesia, because in this sculpture the letter Y is yellow and also appears to have a playful temperament. It’s a rather odd and enjoyable experience to view a whimsical piece of art that is a reflection of the idiosyncrasies of my mind.

Sculpture in a public place that looks like synaesthesia

The letter Y frolics with two lavender-coloured dogs at Piney Lakes playground

A Mark Twain quote

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.

Another super-recognizer blog – how did I overlook this?

I’m wondering why I haven’t come across this blog before. It could be something to do with completely non-standard terminology for superior face recognition. I’ve seen it spelt “superrecognizer”, “super recogniser”, “super-recognizer” and one recent journal paper uses the term “super-recognition”. Information retrieval chaos.

This blog is an interesting find, even if it included a modest couple of posts over a couple of years. Dave C believes that both his mother and himself are super-recognizers, and maybe even his father. So is super-recognition a developmental brain variation that runs in families, like synaesthesia and prosopagnosia? There are good reasons to suspect that this might be so. I definitely do have other synaesthetes in my immediate family, but I don’t know if there are any super-recognizers. There will always be a big question mark over one family member who is long-deceased. Two other aspects of the blog “Super Recogniser” are notable. I find the style of writing interesting and it reminds me a bit of my own written output. The style of his blog also has some similarities with mine, even though by all appearances it was started many months before I had even known of the concept of super-recognition. Dave C’s blog was established in May 2010, mine in December 2010. It appears that his originates from the UK. I’m living in Australia.

Super Recogniser

Short article published this month about a super-recognizer police constable

Davenport, Justin Super-recognisers track down rioters. London Evening Standard. February 6th 2012.

Press article about “The Met”, superrecognizer police, CCTV and UK rioters now available in PDF – thanks Social Perception Lab

This most interesting article by Jack Grimston from last year is now easily accessible on the internet:

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

It appears that this document has been made available through the Social Perception Lab at the Dept of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire in the United States. This lab has an interesting website, where one can find out about prosopagnosia and face recognition, along with even more obscure subjects such as a car memory test and the first documented case of developmental voice agnosia. The list of researchers working there and past associates includes some of the world’s most prominent researchers in face perception, and it is interesting to see some overlap with synaesthesia researchers. Lots of interesting-looking journal papers and book chapters can be accessed in PDF through their website.

Social Perception Lab

Jack Grimston’s Sunday Times article about the super-recognizers in the Met was published a few months ago, so the info given in it might no longer be completely current, but I think it is still worth writing a brief summary with comments and questions about the piece:

The elite squad of super-recognizer police officers in London’s Metropolitan Police number around 20, out of a police force of 34,000, so super-recognizers are identified at a rate of 1 in 1,700 in this police force. Rare birds or under-recognized?

These super-recognizers have proven to be The Met’s most “effective weapons” at identifying faces in CCTV images of the English Riots of 2011, and computerised face-recognition technology has so far been of limited value.

The superrecognizers are ranked in a league table.

One example of a top performing team member is described. He has identified many faces of offenders in CCTV images as people he has seen from his police duty or from police databases.

This super-recognizer team is led by Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

I can’t find any mention in the article of a date when the super-recognizers team was first established, but it does say that Neville was using super-recognizers long before the riots, with one officer showing a definite talent in 2009. This was the same year in which the first ever scientific paper about super-recognizers was published, launching the concept, and in 2009 there was also a lot of media coverage on the subject. It would be interesting to know whether Neville responded very promptly and innovatively to the work of researchers, or whether the use of super-recognizers in the Met developed independently.

One example of a top performing team member is described, and he has identified many faces of offenders in CCTV images as people he has seen from his police duty or from police databases.

This super-recognizer team is led by Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

He is seeking out more members for the team using testing.

Testing conducted within “The Met” to identify super-recognizers consists of giving an officer hundreds of images of suspects to look at in 45 minutes, then counting how many suspects the officer recognizes. It is not explained how these identifications are verified as true. I can only assume that an identification is judged as correct if it leads to or is verified by a conviction after the case has gone through the court system, but I do wish there was more explanation of the methodology behind the judgements made about who is a super-recognizer and what is a successful identification, especially in light of the fact that this is a police force, not a university or a psychological research institute. I would love to read a research paper about the super-recognizer team written by an academic from a scientific point of view.

All 20-odd members of the super-recogniser squad in “The Met” are male, which is curious because three of the four first-ever super-recognizers to be identified by psychology researchers are female (75% women). This could be the result of a gender bias resulting from the self-selecting method by which the study subject super-recognizers were identified (women are apparently more likely to volunteer as subjects of psychology studies than men). Nevertheless, we know that super-recognition is not an ability limited to males, so one has got to wonder why there are no females in the elite police team, assuming that women are adequately represented in this police force as a whole. Sexism? Lack of self-confidence in female police officers?

The super-recognizers have been studied by Dr Josh Davis from the University of Greenwich and a paper is in the works.

Dr Davis is of the opinion that being a super-recognizer is inborn more than learned, but is open to the idea that it might be possible to enhance the ability with training.

When one of the top performers in the team explained how he identifies faces from the CCTV images, he spoke of a quite conscious and deliberate process involving the consideration of individual features, not limited to facial features, requiring concentration. Although he mentioned his feelings of enthusiasm for the job, he didn’t mention emotion as a part of the recognition process. I think this seems quite different to the way regular people normally recognize faces – effortless and automatic and based on the whole face, with a feeling of familiarity as the marker for recognition. I also think it is quite different to the way that I typically recognize faces in everyday life and also under pressure while doing the timed CFMT, and I know that my face recognition ability is fairly elite, given my perfect score on the CFMT short form.

I’m interested in reading more about super-recognizers and their role in the workplace, and I’ve got my eye out for more news articles and research papers on these subjects.

Sex differences in faces? Of course, but where?

I often like to check the stats for this blog, and one of the stats that WordPress makes available is which searchers led readers to my blog. I’ve noticed that this is one recent search: “can one tell difference between gender from face”. This is an interesting question. There must be differences between men and women, and girls and boys that can be detected in faces, because other people and myself are making judgements all the time about the gender of people based on faces alone. I’m sure that for many people a fair proportion of male-to-female transexuals can be picked on their faces alone. Now and then I find that I notice androgynous individuals whose appearance catches my eye because their apparent face gender conflicts with other features of their appearance. This is a thing that I wouldn’t notice at all if faces did not have gendered features that I could detect.

But what are the specific facial features that differ between the sexes? It appears that this is not such a simple question. I see an overall difference, but I’m not completely sure what the different details are. I guess this is a clue that face gender is processed in the brain in at a level where lots of details are integrated, but the individual details alone are not normally consciously perceived. A few years ago there was a fair amount of media coverage of research linking facial width-to-height ratio (WHR) to sexual dimorphism in humans, which is just a fancy scientific term for sex differences. Larger ratios have been linked with maleness, higher levels of aggression in men, and success in competitive pursuits, but it appears that there is conflicting evidence, and this is another scientific theory that might be ready for the recycle bin. My intuition is that the more obvious sex differences in the adult human face can be seen in the jawline and in the eyes and in the browline, males having brow-bones that stick out more but with eyebrows that are lower and closer to the eyes. Women exaggerate this gender difference when they pluck their eyebrows to enlarge the space between the eye and the brow. I have no idea if there is any scientific evidence supporting my beliefs, but it’s common sense really.

Some journal papers about facial width-to-height ratio

Ozener, Baris Facial width-to-height ratio in a Turkish population is not sexually dimorphic and is unrelated to aggressive behaviour. Evolution & Human Behavior. In press. Received 10 July 2010; accepted 22 August 2011. published online 07 November 2011.

Carre, Justin M. and McCormick, Cheryl M. In your face: facial metrics predict aggressive behaviour in the laboratory and in varsity and professional hockey players. Proc. R. Soc. B. 22 November 2008 vol. 275 no. 1651 2651-2656. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0873.


Reise, Reise by Rammstein

Till Lindemann has arguably the most awe-inspiring male voice in rock music today. This song from the 2004 Rammstein album of the same name is in my opinion the greatest showcase of Lindemann’s stunning German voice. Recording studio tricks might account for some of the impact of the vocals in this track. I really don’t care – the musical effect achieved is what matters to me.

I only experience singing voice and spoken voice to colour synaesthesias in response to singing and spoken voices that strike me as unusual or extraordinary, or which evoke emotion. It follows that the singing in this song should make the colours happen as sure as night follows day, and this is true. While some clear and pretty singer’s voices evoke a transparent visual effect like coloured varnish or a watercolour, Till’s powerful manly voice is as opaque as mud, like a most delicious tidal wave of molten chocolate. I never fully appreciated the beauty of the colour brown till I heard this song.

I keep noticing more examples of my lexical-gustatory synaesthesia

….and when I do I add to this blog article. There are heaps of references to meat, and not a single reference to any vegetable. I don’t think I’d be much of a candidate for a vegetarian lifestyle.

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?


Grapheme-colour synaesthesia and enhanced cortical excitability – I find this research quite exciting, but maybe that’s just me

“He found that neurons in the primary visual cortex were more active than expected.”

This is a quote about a study of some grapheme-colour synaesthetes. I’m a grapheme-colour synaesthete, and I’m wondering if this enhanced cortical excitability in the primary visual cortex which they wrote about in New Scientist last November is also an explanation for my superior face memory and the many other atypical visual perception experiences that I’ve had, and have described in this blog. It’s exciting research.

Hyperactive neurons build brains in synaesthesia. New Scientist. 23 November 2011 Issue 2840 p. 18.

Thomson, Helen Hyperactive neurons build brains in synaesthesia. New Scientist. 17 November 2011

Enhanced Cortical Excitability in Grapheme-Color Synesthesia and Its Modulation. Current Biology. Vol 21 Issue 23 2006-2009, 17 November 2011. 10.1016/j.cub.2011.10.032