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. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7402555n&tag=segementExtraScroller;housing

158 interesting comments here:  http://www.cbsnews.com/8601-504803_162-57399111.html?assetTypeId=41&blogId=10391709&tag=postComments;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: http://facetoface.mit.edu/

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  • Anonymous  On April 1, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Hi! It’s Jennifer. The 60 Minutes test was put together by 60 Minutes, it was not the Before They Were Famous test, which I took for the 2009 Harvard study you reference (and yes, I am the JJ in the study, and the Jennifer in the BBC radio interview). There were other testing variables and other photos in the BTWF test.

    • Marilyn Thorpe  On January 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      Does anyone please have a current working link to the Cambridge Face Memory Test? And if there is a way to take the MIT Before They Were Famous test as well, that would be wonderful! Thank you in advance.

    • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      Hi Jennifer, my name is Anna and I am an UK based PhD researcher looking for super-recognizers for my eye-movement research. If you are ever in the UK and would like to help with our research our lab will cover your travel expenses and reimburse you for your time. Contact details are available here-http://staffprofiles.bournemouth.ac.uk/display/abobak Cheers, Anna

  • C. Wright  On April 1, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Thanks for your comment and your information! You are Jennifer Jarett the super-recognizer interviewed by 60 Minutes? Based on the info that I get about commenters I can’t do much to verify the identities of most people. In the cases of academics, often they will post a comment from their work at a university, and email addresses of university staff can usually be verified.

    Would you mind if I asked more questions? Your status as a super-recognizer is well-established internationally, but I suspect that there might be quite a few people in the world at large who suspect that they might be super-recognizers and wish to have this tested and verified by a third party or a professional or an organization of some type. Good to superior face recognition is a very important work skill. I used it constantly in the casual job that I’ve recently been doing. Can you offer any suggestions for these people?

    Another question which maybe isn’t as simple as it seems. Are you a synaesthete? Have you ever taken any tests or screening questioinnares relevant to synaesthesia? Have you ever been asked about synaesthesia or number lines or personification by any researcher? I completely understand if you don’t wish to answer these questions.

    If my questions have already been adressed by 60 Minutes please forgive me. I’m still wading though adverts to watch the various videos at their website. I’ve got more questions than the Spanish Inquisition for a super-recognizer! I could make a 60 Minutes interview seem like a friendly chat over coffee. Thanks again for your comment.

  • Anonymous  On July 7, 2012 at 11:08 am

    It is me, and I realize you can’t do much to verify it is me. Woe is the person who would want to impersonate me, I can’t imagine it’s terribly exciting.

    I definitely do not have synaesthesia and no one has ever asked me if I do. I have a pretty terrible sense of direction. I’m terrible at remembering numbers. I was always the slowest kid in gym class. I really don’t have any other special brain functions, with the exception of being particularly sarcastic at times.

  • C. Wright  On July 7, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks for your comment. You are Jennifer Jarett? It is true that I can’t really verify identities. You sound certain that you aren’t a synaesthete. That means you don’t associate numbers or letters with specific genders or personalities, you don’t see forms or colours in your mind’s eye when you listen to music, you don’t associate people’s faces with colours and you don’t consistently visualise months or numbers or sequences of things in set imagined lines in space? There are many different types of synaesthesia, and a big flaw in some past synaesthesia research has been that the researchers have defined synaesthesia too narrowly, and have thus eliminated some synaesthetes from their studies, and have as a result underestimated how common synaesthesia actually is.

    That’s interesting that you cite a poor sense of direction as one of your characteristics, but it is far from clear what to make of it. Quite a few synaesthetes make similar claims, but it should also be stated that plenty of synaesthetes claim to have the opposite, and I don’t really know what the range of variation is in the non-synaesthete population, so it might all mean nothing.

    Being terrible at remembering numbers is probably quite normal. I know that some synaesthetes use their colours as a mnemonic device for remembering numbers, but I would think this would only work if one took the trouble to use one’s syn in this way. There are mnemonic methods that could be used to the same end that don’t require any synaesthesia. I have grapheme-colour synaesthesia for numbers (coloured numbers), but I’ve never bothered to use it to memorize strings of numbers. I remember phone numbers as a sound sequence, like remembering a tune, which I guess is how most people encode phone numbers.

    Thanks again for your comment, your observations are always most welcome.

  • C. Wright  On July 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Another question for Jennifer J – do you have your own blog? It goes without saying that I’d be interested in reading it if you do.

  • Serena  On August 24, 2012 at 7:42 am

    So I scored a 90% on the MIT test. Thanks so much for posting it. After the test I left a comment asking if there was any correlation between super recognizing and synesthesia, so I was wondering if you could elaborate or link to any more info on that?

    Growing up I saw colors for everything, names, people, words, and it was very consistent. After my teenage years that ability faded BUT with recognizing peoples faces there is sound. Sound with specific texture.

    In fact I have enjoyed these tests because I’ve realized that its the shapes in the faces that make a sound and I use the sound to recognize. Reading someones expression makes a very strong sound, and during the tests I was vocalizing and giggling.

    I also found it immediately interesting how JJ said she’s bad with directions and cant remember numbers. This is almost a disability with me. I have excellent math, algebra skills. But committing ANY number to memory is beyond impossible and my sense of direction is so impaired that I actually do treat it as a disability and prepare accordingly.

    • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Serena, my name is Anna and I am an UK based PhD researcher looking for super-recognizers for my eye-movement research. If you live in UK and would be interested in taking part, please contact me. Our lab will cover your travel expenses and reimburse you for your time. Contact details are available here-http://staffprofiles.bournemouth.ac.uk/display/abobak Cheers, Anna

  • C. Wright  On August 24, 2012 at 11:47 am

    That’s all very interesting, Serena. I can’t cite any info about a link between super-recognition and synaesthesia beyond my own writing. It makes perfect sense that a link should exist, but scientists don’t seem to be interested in researching any link between the two things. My very first post in this blog explains why I think there’s a link, based on my own experiences.

  • Chris  On October 10, 2012 at 3:01 am

    A few years ago, watching a program on TV, I discovered the whole issue of prosopagnosia and discovered I was on the extreme opposite end of that (super-recognizer). My whole life, I have driven my family and in particular (lovers) crazy with my almost daily updates of seeing celebrities (no matter what disguises they try to put on.) My current girlfriend is particularly tired of my almost daily sightings (I’m a New Yorker and live in Manhattan). I have taken the Harvard test and I scored a 30 out of 30. I did the CBS test as well and was as fast if not faster than Jennifer Jarrett (especially with Ronald Reagan…lol). Didn’t get the last one although I knew he was familiar. I’m a loyal ABC World News guy.
    I also have a very strong quantitative, math background but have issues remembering people’s names. You can tell me your name and ten seconds later, I have no memory of what your name is unless, I make a mental note to recall your name a few times after you say it…strange huh…??? A lot of times I recognize famous people or people I have seen only once before (like 20-30 yrs ago) and recognize them instantly and can recall where I met them or what tv show or movie I have seen them in. I’ll take the MIT test next and see how I do…! 🙂

    Chris (African American, 38, Entrepreuneur, former Financial Applications Engineer)

  • Chris  On October 10, 2012 at 4:02 am

    I scored a 96% on the face test and 79% on the car test. I kept getting distracted by these girls that were trying to see what I was up to (during the car test). Nosy people…well I was at a cafe…! 🙂


  • C. Wright  On October 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for your interesting comments, Chris! Perhaps I should add “papparazi” to my list of possible career choices for super-recognizers. Are you any good at photography? 🙂

    When you refer to the “Harvard test” I guess you mean the “Famous Faces” test? I got the same score on that one. sounds like you out-performed me on the test from CBS.

    No, I don’t think there is anything at all strange about you not remembering names, I think most people are much better at faces than names. I only remember names of work-colleagues if I make a special effort. In a book written by a memory compatition champion he wrote that names are harder to remember because they are not as unique as faces. At work I’ve managed to remember the names of my bosses using a strategy suggested by this book in whihc I linked my memory of one boss’s name with my memory of a famous person who has the same first name. For my other boss I used my lexical-gustatory synaesthesia to enrich my memory of her name, because she has a first name that is also a trigger for the concept of a flavoured soft drink, so I try to remember that she’s got a name related to that soft drink. Names are a problem.

    Your scores on the MIT tests were not far under my scores, which is probably pretty good. I think by your comments it sounds like you are a super-recognizer, but I’d really like to know your score on the Cambridge Face Memory Test before judging that, and I’m not sure if it is openly available these days.

    You say your have strong “qualntitative” skills. I’m probably above average at maths, but I’m not much use at visually estimating distances or quantities.

    Once again, thanks for your interesting comments.
    Ms C. Wright.

  • C. Wright  On October 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    I’m assuming that you are male Chris. Would this be true?

  • C. Wright  On October 10, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Unfortunately I can no longer access the video clip that this article links to. I’m not sure why this is.

  • Anonymous  On November 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Hi! Jennifer again. I really swear that I do not have any form of synaesthesia. And I don’t have a blog. It was great to be “diagnosed” as a super-recognizer and have it confirmed that I was not imagining that I remembered more people than just about everyone else. But it’s not really something I think about that much because it’s not really something evolving in my life, it’s just part of who I am, and I can’t change it. I spend far more time thinking about my dog.

  • C. Wright  On November 14, 2012 at 2:04 am

    OK Jennifer, you aren’t a synaesthete. I won’t ask about it again!

    I think I understand what you mean about not thinking much about being a super-recognizer because it is a stable characteristic. We notice things that change, but not so much things that have always been there, and we are usually unable to compare the workings of our own minds with the minds of others, so an unusual cognitive gift might not be noticeable. I never expected to get perfect scores in face memory tests. That was a genuine surprise to me. From a scientific point of view I find things like synaesthesia and superrecognition interesting, and I love the fact that I am my own study subject.

    Once again thanks for your comments, Jennifer (assuming you are Jennifer). It sounds like you are a better dog owner than our neighbours, with their howling neglected hounds.

    I can’t resist asking another question. Do you ever have the experience in which you meet some person in your everyday life, and by chance they just happen to have a collection of facial features and colouring that is a close match with a person who means a lot to you, and it feels a bit strange or unnerving? I’ve only had this happen in a couple of instances in my life, but it is certainly noticeable to me.

  • C. Wright  On November 14, 2012 at 2:05 am

    I’m a shift worker, and this is why I’m up at this ridiculous hour.

  • Hayley  On November 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Hey guys, im hayley and im 19. Just did the MIT test and scored 100% on the face test! Slightly amazed that I was that precise. I scored 74% on the car test, which wasn’t surprising as I pay no attention to cars in real life anyway. I know nothing about them haha. I highly believe I am a super-recogniser and wish someone would test me already. I recognize people i went to primary with almost 15 years later. I never forget a face, although sometimes it does take me a while putting a name to that face. Its also embarrassing and socially awkward sometimes when I go to say hi to someone I met ten years ago and they have no clue who I am haha. I always ace the ‘before they were famous’ quizzes too. Oh and that cbs video, i only knew of 9 of the faces but I got them all right 🙂 Please let me know where I can find more face-recognising tests, thanks!

    • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      Hi Hayley, are you based in UK? I am a PhD researcher in South England and looking for super recognizers to take part in my research. We cover travel expenses and reimburse you for your time. Please get in touch if you are intersteted at abobak@bournemouth.ac.uk

  • C. Wright  On November 25, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for your comment Hayley. If all you write is true I’d say you are a super-recognizer, but you didn’t beat me on the car test! I hope you took a screen printout of your test results. Have you had a crack at these tests? http://www.testmybrain.org/ I haven’t had much time to look for more tests lately, unfortunately.

  • Hayley  On November 25, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Yup! i sure did take a screen print! What’d you score on the car test? I think real cars would’ve been easier for me, ill check those out 🙂

  • C. Wright  On November 25, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    My score on the car test was 62 out of 72 (86%). I did it a while ago. At the time they gave no average score to compare mine with. I have no interest in late model cars (love ones from the early 1960’s though). I think I did well in the test because I am such a try-hard.

  • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Hi all, my name is Anna and I am an UK based PhD researcher looking for super-recognizers for my eye-movement research. If you live in UK and would be interested in taking part, please contact me. Our lab will cover your travel expenses and reimburse you for your time. Contact details are available here-http://staffprofiles.bournemouth.ac.uk/display/abobak Cheers, Anna


  • By Funghitown – Margot's Pizza on March 14, 2018 at 2:54 am

    […] backstory: My friend Jennifer Jarett first introduced me to Gruppo in the East Village, so this pie is indirectly influenced by her as […]

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