Earlier this year I was required to identify a person who broke a law from a police photo-board. As you might expect, this was as easy as falling off a log, because I got a good look at the offender. I was able to identify the offender with great confidence, as well as point out an aspect of the offender’s appearance that had markedly changed between the time I saw the offender and the time when the photo was taken. I was also able to rule out all the other photos as not being photos of the offender, which is actually even more important, because while it is important to prosecute offenders, it is even more important to avoid arresting or prosecuting an innocent person. My successful identification of the offender was confirmed by the police officer who was investigating the matter, which hardly seemed necessary as I was quite sure I was right, unless the offender has a twin or is from one of those families in which siblings look very similar. I should point out that the police officer didn’t immediately confirm that my face identification was correct, because the police have a very thoughtful procedure in place to prevent any possibility that an investigating police officer could influence the process of a witness identifying faces from a photo board.
The usefulness of my skills didn’t end there. I have found my ability to identify family resemblance in faces and in other visual characteristics invaluable in identifying relatives and associates of the offender. I was even able to informally identify an associate completely unconsciously. When I saw this person I felt that he was in some way linked to the offender, but not a blood relative. I took note of his appearance. Later I saw the same person in the company of the offender. I’m not sure whether it was a memory of his appearance or his demeanor at the time which initially caught my attention. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that an associate of the offender has recently dyed their hair black, in an apparent attempt to evade identification, which is a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Dumb people often assume that everyone else is as dumb as they are, but a change in hair colour isn’t likely to fool a super-recognizer, and probably not a person with adequate face and body recognition capabilities.
It appears to me that my superior face recognition ability has given me an edge over other people, because it appears to me that I’m not recognized nearly as often as I identify others, but one can’t be completely sure. One thing that I’m certain of is that super-recognition ability is definitely of value to police, forensic and security work in many different ways, and possibly in ways that no one has for-seen. Police forces need to be sure that they are making the best possible use of the super-recognizers that they already have in their force, and if possible trying to recruit new officers that have this natural and fairly rare ability. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age police recruitment processes are generally blind to the issue of face recognition, superiority or deficits.