Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Art of Fashion and the Sound of Fashion

I’ve had the opportunity to have a good browse (while the kids are at school) of an exhibition of some interesting works of wearable art. Fashion isn’t one of my major interests, so I’m not sure just how new or original the idea of fashion garments as works of art might be. I’m guessing that the extreme fashion which the pop music icon Lady Gaga has become famous for could be considered wearable art, and I’ve also got to wonder whether this singer-songwriter’s engagement with such extreme originality in an area of visual art is in some way connected with her coloured music synaesthesia. Some synaesthesia researchers believe there is a link between creativity and synaesthesia, a theory that must surely be difficult to test, and they never seem to explain exactly how this connection might work. Living in Perth, Western Australia I doubt that I’ll ever get to view items from Gaga’s wardrobe,  but I did get to see the Art of Fashion exhibition at Lakeside Joondalup Shopping Centre, which is a part of the annual Joondalup Festival, which is organized by the City of Joondalup and is happening this weekend.

Does a synaesthete create differently, and does a synaesthete perceive works of artistic creation in ways that non-synaesthetes do not? I doubt that a clear-cut answer to that question is possible, but I suspect that a synaesthete might experience a more conscious awareness of cross-sensory effects. The unusual coloured asymmetric frill at one hip of a predominantly black dress designed by Kasia Kolikow in the Joondalup exhibition has a full and contrasting appearance which evokes the idea of expansion or air blowing, a movement which would seem odd to me if it were not accompanied by a sound. What type of sound? The transparent, airy frill with its day-glow yellows and salmon pinks (contrasting against the black of the dress titled “Never Sleep Again”) has colours that I have always associated with falsetto singing and other high-pitched musical sounds. This dress whistles. There is another outfit in the exhibition which has a title that brings to mind the notion of sound “Summer Pop Fizz” by Cynthia Chong, but my visual perception of the work  evokes extra-modal motion more than sound. A translation of sound and touch and temperature into a visual expressive art form must have been the origin of this whimsical brightly coloured top and shorts, inspired by ice-cold bubbling lemonade, but it doesn’t give me a chill. When I look at the squiggly shapes on the surface of these garments I see motion typical of the surface of turbulent liquid.

It doesn’t take much thought to figure out why the dress named after the species of fish Chelmonops truncatus designed by April Richards evokes a rhythmic sound, as the scalloped edges in contrasting colours spiralling around the dress are visually striking and highly rhythmic, but it’s less clear to me why this rhythmic sound should be an electronic keyboard sound like something out of a 1970’s pop tune by a girl singer. The idea of a dress that looks a bit like a fish or even a mermaid is perhaps an idea typical of pop culture from a more innocent age, and maybe this is why my unconscious mind makes this association. It’s surprising how noisy an exhibition of fashion garments and jewellery can be, so it is some respite that the one outfit in the group of Celene Bridge’s works on display which makes a noise only whispers. I believe Bridge should have thought twice about naming one of her outfits Leap of the Rabbit, because whenever I looked at it I could not help thinking of the French word “lapin” spoken in the softest whisper, repeated over and over. Everything about this amazing outfit has a soft quality – the fabric looks soft and lustrous, the outlines of the dress are feminine and gentle curves, the gorgeous rabbit-shaped sculptural details at the back of the skirt of the dress are soft curved shapes, the shoulder-hugging limpness of the fabric in the short cape and even the headpiece though grim in theme has curving lines. I think an outfit like this demands to have a name with sound symbolism that sounds as soft as the outfit looks, but sadly the English-language word “rabbit” is all wrong. It is a jagged, hard-sounding word, not appropriate as a name for an animal with a soft pelt. The French have more of a clue. I can think of no animal in the world softer to touch than a rabbit, so I’d say a rabbit deserves to be called a lapin.

I’m a little bit surprised that my unconscious mind has spontaneously offered up a French word to my conscious mind as a comment on the fashion outfit, because I don’t consider myself in any way proficient in the French language. I dropped out of French classes early in year 8 of high school, and year 8 was the extent of my formal teaching in that language, but I suspect that most people have a broader vocabulary in foreign languages than they realise.

The Art of Fashion exhibition will be on display up to the 31st of March 2012 (tomorrow) at Lakeside Joondalup Shopping City. It’s worth a look (and a listen) so don’t wait till it’s too late.

Urban Couture. City of Joondalup.

Urban Couture Gallery.

Are you a synaesthete? There are tests

Recommended  –  The Synesthesia Battery from the laboratory of Dr David Eagleman at Baylor College of Medicine.     (you will need to set aside a bit of time for this, and it only identifies some types of synaesthesia)

A Spanish synaesthesia test?

A screensaver which causes motion to sound synesthesia in some people, from New Scientist magazine’s YouTube channel

Revised Test of Genuineness (TOG-R) – 2006 journal paper about it

A synaesthesia screening questionnaire used by researchers at the University of Cambridge

Dr Ashok Jansari’s search for super-recognizers finds seven – article in Der Spiegel

According to the English translation of this article, which is available through the Superrecognizers website belonging to Dr Jansari and his team at the University of East London, the search for super-recognizers in London that was conducted late last year into early 2012 yielded 7 super-recognizers out of the 725 people who participated in the testing study at the Science Museum in London, including a surprising find that the brother of Dr Jansari is one of the seven. How strange is that? So, we know that one of the seven super-recognizers is male. What are the genders of the others? I don’t think it says in this article.

Also of interest in the article is information about the elite group of super-recognizer police in London’s Metropolitan Police, with interviews with super-super-recognizer Idris Bada and Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

Hoflinger, Laura Hirnforschung – Superhelden aus dem Museum. Der Spiegel. Volume 11 2012 p.129-131.

An English translation can be accessed from here:

This is a quote from the translation:

“The neuropsychologist Jansari suspects that his brother and the other super-recognizers process faces in a rather holistic way; they do not focus as much on single parts of the face, like the nose, mouth or eyes.”

If I’m a super-recognizer, then I don’t know if this idea of super-recognizers having more holistic perception with less focus on individual elements explains the difference between us and people with normal levels of ability. I do very much notice individual elements of faces, consciously and unconsciously, as well as recognizing whole faces in a way that feels automatic and uncontrolled. I will notice if different people have mouths or ears that look similar and also distinctive. I recall that a boy I knew when I was a teen and he was a child had a William Shatner mouth, which is a quite an unusual type of mouth where the upper lip looks the larger. Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela seem to have very similar smiles and lower faces, but not identical faces. I think the difference between a super-recognizer and a regular recognizer might be that the former does both holisitc and detailed perception well and also in a well-integrated manner. I believe enhanced brain wiring akin to synaesthesia might be the basis of this enhanced integration of both modes of perception. I suspect that an emphasis on perceiving faces feature-by-feature might be more characteristic of poor face recognition than good face recognition. In the recent CBS 60 Minutes story about prosopagnosia and super-recognizers the prosopagnosic artist Chuck Close was asked to identify the faces of some famous people. He did manage to identify some of the faces and he explained how he did it. He identified Jay Leno from his very unusual chin and picked Tiger Woods from his lips.

It is interesting to see for the first time researchers giving estimates of how common (or rare) super-recognizers might be in the population at large. The seven in seven hundred and twenty-five people tested in the London study suggests that super-recognizers are made by mother nature at a rate of just over 1% of the population, while Dr Jansari’s team give an estimate of 2% for super-recognizers at their website  I guess it all depends on definitions and cut-off points, which are arbitrary. At levels of one or two percent super-recognizers are rare enough to constitute some kind of elite, worth identifying or recruiting if the trait is found to have some value or utility, but are also not so rare that anyone can dismiss the possibility that one could encounter or find a super-recognizer in their community or workplace or social circle. Perhaps super-recognizers should form some kind of association or society or club. The future is anyone’s guess, as this area of scientific inquiry is shiny and new, and we are dealing with a concept that is only a few years old.

At the beginning of the Der Spiegel article there are six photographs of famous people when they were children, which can be used as a mini Before They Were Famous Test if you don’t scroll down too soon and see who they are. How many of them are you able to identify? I picked three of them correctly, and couldn’t guess at the others who were not unknown to me but weren’t hugely familiar either, as I’m not as European as the magazine is. I had seen the photo of the little boy with the big hat before and knew who it is. The thing that really struck me about this photo is the apparent abnormality with the child’s eyes. They don’t match – one is much darker than the other, which seems rather worrying. Some people naturally have irises of different colours, but it isn’t a good thing if pupil sizes don’t match.

I’ve not mentioned before that there are three different types of things to look at which seem to catch my eye in ways that are a maybe bit extreme or distracting. These things are faces (animals and human), cars travelling at a speed of around 40 KPH (especially the wheels), and eyes. I simply cannot abide the sight of eyes that point in different directions, even in the slightest. Glass eyes are the worst, and lazy eyes make me feel ill, even if the owner of them is the nicest person in the world. And some apparently healthy and normal people have eyes that seem to be very slightly out. This seems to happen more often in people whose eyes protrude slightly, for whatever reason, and this type of thing seems to be unusually common among a particular ethnic group from the South Pacific. Another eye issue that sets me on edge is eyes with pupils that don’t look right, because one looks bigger in one eye than the other, or they both seem to be too dilated, bringing to mind the image of a pet cat in an aggressive mood. Have you ever read the classic short story The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe? A bad eye can certainly be quite a distraction, but it isn’t only eye imperfection which catches my eye. I can also become quite distracted by the perfection of good eyes in some circumstances. Newborn babies are such lovely little things with soft, perfect skin, but they are quite limited in things that they can do to express themselves physically. Their limb movements seem random and quite uncontrolled, but the way their eyes move is a display of how perfectly a baby has been put together by nature, because even though the baby might look around in an apparently uncontrolled manner, his or her eyes will usually match perfectly in their movements. This I find fascinating, in a way that seems to owe more to instinct than to intellect. Maybe all mothers find the eyes of young babies fascinating in a way that is strangely compelling. I’m just glad that I don’t live on an island in the South Pacific.

Woo Hoo! A test specifically for super-recognizers from CBS 60 Minutes

Are you a “super-recognizer”? Take a test. 60 Minutes. CBS News. March 18, 2012.;housing

158 interesting comments here:;commentWrapper

I think the test presented in this video is an excerpt from the Before They Were Famous Test, a test which I’ve been trying to gain access to since September 2010. The full test has 56 photos of famous people, with super-recognizers typically correctly identifying less than 32 of those, so it is certainly a test to sort out people at the highest end of the spectrum of ability. There are a total of 17 photos of famous British or American people presented in this video. Out of the 17 I was totally unfamiliar with 6 of the famous people (I’ve lived in Australia all my life and have limited interest in recent and obscure US celebrities). I never knew them from a bar of soap. Of the 11 celebrities whom I am familiar with, I identified 5 of them correctly while doing the test at the same pace as the video playing, missing 6 of the famous faces that I do know. I think I could have picked the face of Nancy Reagan if her face had been shown in a close-up, not a long-shot, a few seconds before the video revealed her identity. As soon as someone tells you who a known person is in a photo it is usually impossible not to see who they are, so I didn’t count Nancy Reagan as a hit. Her face is very distinctive, even as a young girl. I don’t think I can conclude anything much about me from my score, because as an Aussie I don’t think my score can be compared with American people taking the test, but it was a bit of fun.

The video features Jennifer Jarett tackling the test in fine form. I’m pretty sure that she was one of the first a super-recognisers to be identified by science, in a journal paper published in 2009. She has also been the subject of a 2009 article in the New York Times.

If you think you might be a super-recognizer and you also wish to do testing to see if this is true, I believe you would need to do both the full Before They Were Famous Test (with the caution that cultural differences might affect your score) and also the clinically credible Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), prefereably the long form, which was created by researchers from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and University College in London. The short form of the CFMT was once freely available to do at a number of places on the internet, but now I believe this autism study at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is the only place where you might access it for free:

A test to identify prosopagnosia (face-blindness) from 60 Minutes CBS

Do you have trouble recognizing faces? Take a test. 60 Minutes. CBS News. March 18, 2012.;storyMediaBox

If you think you do have a problem with recognizing faces, I recommend this website, created by university researchers who are experts in the field of prosopagnosia:

Welcome to new readers!

I’ve had a look at my site stats after neglecting my blog for a while and I’m having a laugh. It appears that the traffic to this blog on Monday March 19th 2012 was very, very much greater than it was on Sunday March 18th 2012. I guess something happened in the United States. I hope my new readers will find things of interest here. This blog has been going for a while and includes items on a wide range of connected (everything is connected to a synaesthete) subjects.

Story about prosopagnosia and super-recognizers on US 60 Minutes

March 26th 2012 – Many thanks to Associate Professor Brad Duchaine for letting me know about the recent story on the US version of 60 Minutes about prosopagnosia and super-recognizers.

April 1st 2012 – I’ve just had the chance in my busy week to sit down and watch the whole story in a video from the CBC 60 Minutes website (no joke). It is really interesting and well worth a look. Another story about space travel comes up first and you need to sit through some advertisements as well, but it’s worth the wait. Many interviews with interesting people are included. I hope that the Australian 60 Minutes show will re-use the story on our local current affairs TV show, without the usual delay of two years or so.

April 29th 2012 – There are many different ways to watch this story from the CBS 60 minutes website, with video extras and comments and useful links in various places. Good work!

Face Blindness. Reporter – Lesley Stahl, Producer – Shari Finkelstein, 60 Minutes, CBS News, Broadcast March 18th 2012.

SpaceX, Face Blindness.  (This is a link to the whole 60 Minutes episode, with the whole story “Face Blindness” and another story preceding it)

Face Blindness: When everyone is a stranger. (This link takes you to a transcript of the story, links to two parts of the story on video, a link to a video about a prosopagnosia test, a link to the website of prosopagnosic Dr Oliver Sacks, a link to a photo gallery of protraits by prosopagnosic artist Chuck Close, and other links and over 50 comments.);contentBody

Face Blindness, part 1.  (This link takes you to part one of the story and also a number of “Web extras” video clips)

Are you a “super-recognizer”? Take a test. by 60 Minutes Overtime Staff  (video of super-recognizer Jennifer Jarett doing the test with Lesley Stahl interviewing, also over 150 interesting comments);contentBody

Super-recognizer to appear on Channel 4’s The Hidden Talent Show? Documentary about superrecognizers?

From Facebook three weeks ago: “For a Channel 4 programme called Hidden Talent Richard Bacon interviewed UEL Lecturer Ashok about his study into Super Face Recognition and it’s polar opposite Face Blindness”

From Twitter February 24th 2012: “Dr Jansari currently being interviewed by Richard Bacon for Channel 4 documentary about super-recognizers.”

View the show here for a limted time, subject to geoblocking:  Hidden Talent Series 1 Episode 5 May 22 2012 Channel 4 UK

From the written description of this episode, it appears that Dr Ashok Jansari administered the Before They Were Famous Test and also probably the Cambridge Face Memory Test to a crowd to find super-recognizers, a screening process modelled on the 2009 paper by Russell, Duchaine and Nakayama which launched the concept of the super-recognizer. This screening process identified three super-recognizers: Richard (male name), Charlie (gender not clear) and Higo (male). They are then put through a live test of face memory.

Personifying moving objects by decorating with gendered features – cute cars with curled eyelashes and boy-bits dangling at the back of utes

car with eyelashes

Car decorated with cute eyelashes

Ordinal-linguistic personification is a type of synaesthesia in which concepts such as letters and/or numbers are involuntarily thought of as having individual characteristics usually associated with people, such as genders and ages and personalities. One the face of it this might seem pretty odd, but the linking of personal characteristics with non-living things is certainly not limited to the arena of obscure psychological phenomena. In our shared culture ships are often ascribed with a female gender, and cyclones are given personal names. One very effective make of vacuum cleaner has a cute face on it and is named Henry. It appears that moving objects are especially likely to be associated with human-like characteristics, possibly because their mobility and agency causes the more primitve and instinctual parts of our brains to “read” them as people or intelligent animals.

The car in the photograph above was spotted recently in an outer suburb of Perth, Western Australia. I’m not sure whether the personification of an inanimate object or the creation of a gender identify statement was the insipration for this quaint bit of motor vehicle decoration. Another odd type of motor vehicle decoration that I’ve seen recently is like the male version of this idea. It is a thing that looks like a nutsack draped over a towing assembly at the back of a motor vehicle,  generally seen on the back of utes which tend to be associated with male drivers. They appear to be made out of an empty plastic balloon and two tennis balls. The car eyelashes appear to be an accessory that does not come with the car but can be purchased through the internet, should you require a more cute-looking mode of transport than your standard car.

Tyler, Alison Blinking madness! Car lashes are the most patronising ‘female-friendly’ gimmick of the lot. MailOnline. 6 September 2010.

BullsNuts. YouTube. uploaded Jun 7, 2010.   (an advertisement for truck decoration accessories that appear to be sold by an Australian business)

Competition between reading and face recognition?

A box of text at the side of an interesting article about the promising new idea of “perceptual learning” in education in New Scientist magazine (from January this year) included a suggestion that literacy can interfere with face recognition ability, citing a paper by Stanislas Dehaene and other researchers which was published in 2010 in the journal Science. Dehaene is the author of the brilliant and readable book titled Reading in the Brain: the science and evolution of a human invention, which I have previously written about at this blog, and he is also a French professor who has expertise in the area of the neural basis of reading.

I’ve taken a look at the abstract of that journal paper (which is also available to read in full text on the internet) and I’m not sure that an interpretation that literacy is a burden on the brain is justifiable, as it appears that learning how to read enhances responses in a number of different parts of the brain, including enhancement of “visual responses in fusiform and occipital cortex…” I probably shouldn’t make too many conclusions after merely reading an abstract of a research report paper, especially in light of the fact that I’m not a qualified researcher or scientist myself. Nevertheless, perhaps this research supports my claims that there’s a close association between the different abilities in reading faces and in reading text, and that there is a link between my superior face memory, my synaesthesia which I share with some first-degree relatives, and the above-average and precocious literacy abilities that are found in myself and my fellow synaesthete relatives, and that the fusiform gyrus is the part of the brain that is the basis of these connected abilities. It would be interesting to know whether prosopagnosia and dyslexia are found together more often than one would expect by chance. I doubt that literacy can be blamed for any impairment in face recognition.

Stanislas Dehaene, Felipe Pegado, Lucia W. Braga, Paulo Ventura, Gilberto Nunes Filho, Antoinette Jobert, Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, Régine Kolinsky, José Morais, Laurent Cohen How Learning to Read Changes the Cortical Networks for Vision and Language. Science.  Published Online November 11 2010 December 3rd 2010 Vol. 330 no. 6009 pp.1359-1364 DOI: 10.1126/science.1194140—how-reading-changes-the-brain2.aspx

Aldhous, Peter Learning without remembering. New Scientist. January 21st 2012 Number 2848 p.42-45.