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
http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Supers.pdf

EBSCOhost Accession number 7EH53940939

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/

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 http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/index.html

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.

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