Monthly Archives: March 2013

Doppelgangers of the cloth

Every Easter there they are on the TV delivering their special Easter-time messages, and here I am looking at their faces, wondering by Archbishop Peter Jensen reminds me so much of a Perth-based actor I used to know and dislike for no particular reason about a quarter of a century ago, and I also wonder why I find both the actor and the Anglican so unsettling. There is more than a facial resemblance. When I see Cardinal George Pell’s face on the box on Good Friday I can think of nothing but a budgerigar in a cassock. I am probably destined for Hell.

Later as I’m enjoying a family evening watching The Addams Family 1960’s television series on DVD, I can’t help wondering if the hilarious Jackie Coogan and the grouchy American comedian Don Rickles might be related. Is it Uncle Fester’s face or his bald head or his down-market accent or his comedic acting that brings to mind the rude stand-up man, or all of the above? A face is usually much more than just a face, at least in my eyes.


Here’s an odd observation from a young child who has since infancy displayed an odd talent at visual recognition of things that are barely noticeable, possible synaesthesia and a marked tendency toward pareidolia.

While travelling in a booster seat at the back of a car the child was looking at the road directory. The child declared that she knew why there are swans on the Swan River. The child was looking at a map of the Perth Water section of the Swan River. She insisted that when the swans were flying around, they look down and spot a section of river that looks like the shape of a swan, which gives them a nice feeling of familiarity, so they fly down and land there. You can see this if you look at the map, but I never would have picked the swan shape unless I had it pointed out to me. Kids!

A wonderful bit of pareidolia from last year

New paper about Williams syndrome and face processing

Cashon, Cara, Ha, Oh-Reyong, DeNicola, Christopher, Mervis, Carolyn Toddlers with Williams Syndrome Process Upright but not Inverted Faces Holistically. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI10.1007/s10803-013-1804-0

It sounds interesting that toddlers with Williams syndrome have “extreme interest in faces from a very young age”, but I just want to know how the performance of these toddlers compares with the abilities of toddlers without Williams syndrome. If interest isn’t reflected in superior performance that might be interesting in itself, I guess, but it would be more interesting if there was a definite relationship between interest and perrformance.

Not sure how this interesting new study relates to prosopagnosia

Holistic Processing for Other-Race Faces in Chinese Participants Occurs for Upright but Not Inverted Faces.

Kate CrookesSimone Favelle, and William G. Hayward

Frontiers in Psychology. 2013; 4: 29. Published online 2013 January 31. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00029 PMCID: PMC3560099

“… despite showing strong holistic processing for other-race faces, Asian participants do show an other-race effect in memory (e.g., Asian participants show better memory for Asian than Caucasian faces).”

So what is the relationship between holistic processing and face memory?

What does the memory competition community to have to offer prosopagnosics?

O’Brien, Domininc Never Forget a Name or Face.

It comes as no surprise that a book on the subject of memorizing names and faces by a memory competition champion is apparently not a massive success. Dominic O’Brien won the World Memory Championships eight times over, and he is the author of many successful and highly respected self-help books about memory, so he is most definitely an expert on memory (a practicing expert, not an academic researcher expert) and writes good books on the subject. So why is his book about remembering names and faces apparently unpopular, with only one review on Amazon, a negative one? Perhaps it is because face memory is different to memory in general. Poor face memory is a visual agnosia and is not the result of a lack of effort in memorization or a lack of knowledge about mnemonic techniques. Memory sport champions with normal abilities in visual recognition and visual memory might be very good at using memory techniques, but do they have anything much to offer the prosopagnosic?

We can’t dismiss mnemonists and memory performers before establishing exactly how they achieve their feats of memorization. The American Harry Lorayne is one memory performer who has an incredible record for matching names with faces. He reputedly memorized more than 7,500,000 names and faces over a lifetime, but such claims (found in a 1994 book by Buzan and Keene) are hard to test. Are researchers in the science of face memory, prosopagnosia and super-recognizers the only ones to look to for knowledge about face memory and face memory impairment, or can non-academic practicing memory experts make a useful contribution? We shouldn’t forget that one of the most famous academic case studies of superior memory, published in the book The Mind of a Mnemonist by Alexander Luria, was a study of a man who had at one time worked as a stage mnemonist. Many people believe that Luria misunderstood the basis of the astounding memory abilities of Shereshevsky.

Wikipedia contributors Harry Lorayne. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,

A test of object recognition

The Cambridge Car Memory Test is a test of object recognition, which is apparently independent of face memory, but modestly correlated. This test can be used to diagnose impairment or agnosia in object recognition, and it was modeled on the successful Cambridge Face Memory Test. What is behind the sex differences found by these researchers?

The Cambridge Car Memory Test: A task matched in format to the Cambridge Face Memory Test, with norms, reliability, sex differences, dissociations from face memory, and expertise effects

Hugh W. Dennett, Elinor McKone, Raka Tavashmi, Ashleigh Hall,  Madeleine Pidcock, Mark Edwards, Bradley Duchaine

Behavior Research Methods. June 2012, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 587-605.


Someone else who looks like Jean

Gladys in this story on last night’s 60 Minutes has a face that reminds me so much of Jean, the Jean whose face is the synaesthesia concurrent in The Strange Phenomenon. Funny thing is that the photos shown in this story of Gladys as a young lady with smooth skin and dark hair don’t remind me much of Jean. The older Gladys without the dark hair and dark brows dominating the look of her face, but with the pattern of wrinkles that form a radiating pattern at the tops of her eyes, does look to my eye like Jean, in a way that’s just uncanny. I think the resemblance is uncanny because it seems to go beyond the facial appearance to include expressions as well. Old or young, Gladys has a pleasant face that catches the eye.

Fashion recognition app that could be useful for prosopagnosics

Google Glass app identifies you by your fashion sense. by Paul Marks New Scientist. Magazine issue 2907, 7 March 2013.

I’m not completely clear how this recognition technology works, but it says it creates a spatiogram that is a record of what a person is wearing, including colours, and it can be used to identify an individual in a crowd. I found it interesting that face recognition was dismissed as unfeasable, considering the many articles I’ve read over the years making big claims for face recognition technology:

“Face recognition systems cannot be used for this, says InSight developer Srihari Nelakuditi at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, because it is unlikely someone in a crowd will be looking straight at a headset’s camera.”