Are super-recognizers rarities or just uncommon?

Jaslow, Ryan London police using 200 super-recognizers: What makes them “super”?. CBS News. September 27th 2013.

Superrecognition researcher Prof. Richard Russell interviewed, estimates super-recognizers are 1 in 1,000.


Buckland, Danny Police officers’ superhuman ability to recognise faces is being used to fight crime. Express. September 1st 2013.

Super-recognizer researcher Dr Ashok Jansari quoted as sharing his belief that super-recognizers are 1% (1 in 100) of the population.


Gaidos, Susan Familiar faces. Science News.  Web edition August 23rd 2013, Print edition September 7th 2013. Volume 184 Number 5 p.16.

“Though studies of super recognizers are just getting under way, findings suggest that about 1 percent of people are super recognizers.”


Davis, J.P., Lander, K., and Jansari, A. I never forget a face. Psychologist. October 2013. 26(10), 726-729.

“The results from the study are being prepared for publication, but preliminary results showed that on the CFMT, there was a roughly normal distribution with fewer than 10 individuals scoring within the ‘superrecognition’ criteria of two standard deviations above the mean established by Russell et al. (2009). These results therefore support the suggestions of Russell et al., that less than 2 per cent of the population may be classified as superrecognisers.”

and how common is the opposite condition, prosopagnosia?

“The prevalence of developmental prosopagnosia in the population may be 2 per cent (Kennerknecht et al., 2006),…”



Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Anna  On December 5, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Hi there, my name is Anna and I am currently carrying out eye- tracking research with super-recognizers in England. If you are interested in taking part, or could refer other people to me, please let me know. My Twitter is @akbobak Thanks!

  • C. Wright  On December 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Anna, I’m happy to help you to recruit supers, but if you do a study and then it never gets published I won’t be too impressed. It appears that there has been at least one study of supers which has disappeared without trace. I wont be able to help you by participating for 2 reasons: I’m in Australia and I’m over being a guinea pig.

    • Anna  On December 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm

      Hello, I’m sorry that your experience with research to date has not been positive. I am a part of the Centre for Face Processing Disorders and work with Sarah Bate, who mainly specialises in the other side of the spectrum- face blindness. She is an active publisher and encourages me to do the same. I am currently writing up my first paper, based on an eye tracking study that I conducted with 4 SRs as a parto of my PhD. I have already presented it at a conference, and I am certainly hoping that it will get published. I find it very challenging to find people who are exceptional at recognising faces, so your contacts and help would be invaluable. In return, I can promise that I will do everything in my power to publish it. I am trying to establish myself as a researcher and publications are the main measurable outcome. Thanks. Anna

  • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

    My lab profile can be found here and university portfolio here

  • C. Wright  On December 6, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Eye-tracking research? It seems a crude way to study what is going on in the mind of a person recognizing faces, and I would have thought what really matters is results, not methods, but who am I to tell you how to do your job?

    • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 12:31 am

      Tracking eye-movements is a very useful and accurate indicator of on-line cognitive processing and has been used in research since 1960’s. I am also looking at shape perception, object memory, global and local bias and other perceptual and cognitive processes. There are different methods out there, and so far ours has shown some promising results. at this stage, finding more people to participate in UK is crucial to the progress and widening the body of knowledge.

  • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 1:09 am page 77

  • C. Wright  On December 6, 2013 at 1:25 am


  • C. Wright  On December 6, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Hello again Anna. I hope you are still looking at these comments. I prefer to communicate via comments rather than email.

    I’m a bit concerned that research on super-recognizers might suffer from the same flaws that have marked a lot of synaesthesia research. In general the supers who have been studied and described by researchers to date have been self-selected. The 2009 study that started the idea of super-recognizers included subjects who had approached prosopagnosia researchers but didn’t have the thing that these researchers were studying, and that is a pretty bold or unusual thing to do. I myself am a rather bold and nerdy person. There’s every reason to suspect that we might not be typical of super-recognizers, so if we are used for research the results could be quite misleading if they are taken as typical of supers or superrecognition. Synaesthesia research is rarely done on samples that are not self-selected to some degree, and even now synaesthesia researchers seem to be happy to continue this bad tradition, even though they know that it has seriously biased and distorted their understanding of synaesthetes. The clearest example of this is the sex ratio in synaesthesia. It was once thought to be predominatly females, and papers were published with detaied speculation about X chromosome theories of genetics, which were all a complete waste of time and ink and paper and bytes because when some researchers did research on proper samples which weren’t self-selected they found a roughly even sex ratio. The genuine prevalence of synaesthesia was also only uncovered when the quality of research sampling improved. These estimates have been wildly wrong, and wrong ideas about gender and prevalence of synaesthesia are now part of the popular understanding of synaesthesia. Do you see the problem? I’d like to see research done on large general population samples in studies of face recognition that avoid as much as possible self-selection biases. Supers and prosos aren’t incredibly rare so maybe this isn’t impossible?

    • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm

      I have now subscribed to your feed. I understand, that there are problems with self-selecting samples, but as with most special populations, it would be near impossible to randomly sample people- you would first need a pool of supers etc. However, one of my participants was selected during screening, not recommended by anyone. I am also now in process of running a large study that will hopefully recruit some supers without the need of advertising for the particular skill.

      I will be looking at your blog for people, but do you think that you could maybe post something about my research with the link to the lab? You seem to have many contacts. I think it is very important that people gifted with extraordinary face recognition memory come forward. Future research could look at rehabilitation programmes for people with prosopagnosia, or training applications for those employed in forensic and national security settings.

  • C. Wright  On December 6, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I intend to post something about your research, it’s just that it is that time of the year when Christmas events take up a bit of time.

    Regarding your idea of face recognition training for ppl already employed; I think at least one super-recognition researcher (Dr Josh Davis) is of the opinion that it is inborn and probably not a thing that can be greatly improved, but on the other hand there’s one prosopagnosic in the literature who employed a strategy to pass a good face memory test, and I don’t regard this strategy as a cheat, I think it is more like self-improvement. But regardless, the Met Police force find that it is more effective to identify supers already in their workforce and use them to full potential, rather than the cost of some unproven training program to improve normals. Remember that we probably aren’t extremely rare. If you want supers to volunteer perhaps giving tested supers some form of certification or reference attesting to their level of ability might be the best incentive for some.

    • Anna  On December 6, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      This is true, and more than just an opinion (see, but this doesn’t necessary mean that it can’t be enhanced. There are many other professions where people work with faces and standard training would be beneficial. Not to mention that rehabilitation programmes for people with prosopagosia would be very welcome too and our lab is working on it already. Thank you for intending to post- I really appreciate it! I have commented in a few places in response to older posts, I think that they are awaiting your moderation. Your blog is a very useful resource and I’m very glad to have found it.

  • C. Wright  On December 6, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    I fully support the idea of trying to bring out latent ability in prosopagnosics, and I’m sure it is there in many. I’d write a post about my ideas on this point, but this is only an unpaid hobby and I can’t justify the time that I spend on it already.

  • C. Wright  On December 6, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    Dr Anna Bobak? I like to get titles correct.

    • Anna  On December 7, 2013 at 12:00 am

      Anna Bobak, MSc – My PhD is underway.

  • Sheila  On December 16, 2013 at 1:32 am

    I’ve just realized that I am a super recognizer, though I remember it occurring in my teens. It has become more prominent as I age and seems to be unaffected by normal aging memory loss. I’ve finally learned not to acknowledge my recognition of people as it can really be off-putting to them. I would be interested in participating in a study so I can learn more about how this works. My contact is papermuse at gmail.

  • C. Wright  On December 16, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for your comment Sheila. Did you know that face memory ability peaks unusually late in human development? See this post:

    Before you volunteer for a study of super-recognizers perhaps it would be a good idea to verify your ability by doing a test. You could try the Famous Faces Test here:
    If it is the same Famous Faces test that I did years ago you should get a perfect or near-perfect score in it if you are a super-recognizer. A better test would be the Cambridge Face Memory Test, because the scores of super-recognizers doing that test have been published, but I don’t know where you might get access to that test currently.

    The University of Greenwich used to offer a short online test for super-recognizers as a part of a study but now that study is finished.

    If you live in the UK you might want to contact Anna about being in her study.

    The frustrating thing about being a super-recognizer is that as far as I know there is no place where you can go and get free access to a scientifically valid test to enable you to prove and document your ability. We only get access to testing if we are willing to act as a subject in some study, and some researcher is making a test available at the time. With some tests you don’t even get a screen to print with your score on it, so that is useless as documentation. Being a super-recognizer is definitely an important ability in the workplace, and we should be able to state in a resume that we have that ability and be able to offer documented proof of our ability, but no one seems to be interested in doing that for us, even though it would be the easiest thing in the world and the tests do exist. A couple of years ago I volunteered in person as a study subject at a local university with the stated aim of getting a test score to document my ability. When i got there they didn’t offer the test I was after and I had to follow up with emails for weeks after just to get one score of mine from the two tests I did. This is one reason why I’m wary of researchers. They have their own interests, but don’t necessarily care about yours.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: