Monthly Archives: September 2015

Large twin study using the CFMT reportedly finds face recognition is heritable but largely independent of general intelligence and object recognition ability

I wish I had the full scientific background to fully interpret this interesting new study, because the results have HUGE implications in psychology, but as far as I know are not particularly surprising or at odds with related research. The genetic and phenotypic independence of face recognition ability would smash to smithereens the long-debated idea of “g”, or one (mysterious) factor largely determining general mental ability. Face recognition or face memory appears to defy “g”, but all the same, I can’t help clinging to the idea that there’s a link between top ability in face recognition and at least some other cognitive gifts. Based on personal experience I find it hard to leave behind the idea of a link between elite reading and writing ability, synaesthesia and superior face recognition.

Placing the heritability of face recognition ability at 61%, as this study has done, kicks sand in the face of the long and bitterly debated idea that giftedness or talent is the result of long hours of focused training rather than innate ability, but I can think of one researcher who has championed the “trained not innate” position on talent or expertise for many years, who seems to lack an awareness of the entire body of face recognition research, instead focusing his attentions on elite performers in sport, music, memory and chess. Ignorance is bliss, they say.

I am a super-recognizer, and I have no memory of ever training my ability in recognizing or memorizing faces, and no one has coached, pressured nor trained me to this specific task. I defy those who argue that intelligence is “environment” not genetics to explain me and faces. Up until a few years ago I had no idea I was even above average with faces, so don’t ask me.

Nothing like springtime in the south-west of Western Australia, or should I say Djilba?

For most of my life I’ve lived in Perth, Western Australia and have thought of my hometown as a pretty ordinary place, unique only for it’s isolation from the rest of Australia and the rest of the world. In the last decade or so it has become a boom-town due to mining and the competitive economy of Australia, but now the boom is busting, but among the spring flowers I care little about harsh economic realities. It is true, but a thing that I’ve not always appreciated, that WA is a world-class wildflower show in spring, or as our local Noongar Aboriginal people might say, the season of Djilba. 

Today I’ve had the opportunity to check out the delightful scent of local native leek orchids, quite a treat as they aren’t the kind of thing you’d see outside of a bushland reserve, and they apparently tend to bloom following fire events. I think the Anthocercis with it’s star-shaped masses of yellow flowers might have a similar habit. I didn’t know there are WA native orchids that like to laugh or yawn till I saw a webpage about WA Prasophyllums. Could be another case of botanical facial pareidolia.

It’s more than just face recognition

You would have to be a fool to think that the abilities of super-recognizers are limited to face memory and face recognition. I strongly suspect that another part of the parcel of ability is the highly sensitive recognition of body language, and by that I mean the total package of facial expressions and head and body movements and probably the associated vocal expressions that is characteristic, but not completely unique, to a person. Of course, these things are intimately linked with the static appearance of the face, and very often when I detect two individuals who have a strikingly similar physical expressive personality they will also have faces that are similar in many ways. My point is, that faces and people are not static objects, and judging super-recognition with tests that use photos probably does not begin to explore the total package of ability.

Not often, but now and then I’m struck and fascinated by the resemblance between the expressiveness of a person I know and some famous person, and also sometimes the similarity can be seen between famous people. One example would be when I was watching the Australian comedian Wil Anderson being interviewed in the One Plus One TV show. In this show he was much more animated than his usual TV appearances, probably because his style of comedy requires a quite cool, straight face, while in the interview he was responding to personal questions and was recounting personal stuff. I was struck by how much his expressive personality or body language seemed the same as the Australian comedy and straight role actor Garry McDonald AO. Do they have similar faces also? I think when you remove the differences in age and hair and facial hair and acting roles, there is a basic facial similarity, but I feel that it goes beyond that. There’s more to it than mere eyes and noses and mouths.

Perhaps you are wondering how researchers could test my proposition that supers are also specifically and separately super at recognizing or interpreting body language, without mixing up face recognition and body language recognition? I guess one could use computer generated images of human silhouettes or outlines as was done in this interesting piece of research about the ability to judge sexual orientation from body language. I’ll bet supers would gun such a test!


Note to self

I keep ignoring my own best advice to not waste time on events involving Western Australia’s science community. Why?

A product to compliment “The Capability”?

Hornyak, Tim How Japan’s Privacy Visor fools face-recognition cameras. PC World. August 11th 2015.

Brain Games on SBS

This TV series is so much worth viewing if you are interested in psychology, including optical illusions, visual perception and many other interesting things.

How capable is the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability?

Reporter: Margot O’Neill

It’s been described by the Government as its ‘latest security weapon’, but is the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability open to misuse? Lateline. ABC. September 9th 2015.

It sounds like we are doing everything except using super-recognizers in Australia, which seems different to the approach used by police in the UK. Based on what I’ve read, I’m skeptical about the accuracy of this sort of technology.

Radio story about facial recognition technology and policing on Radio National

Facial recognition, drones and advances in policing. Future Tense. Radio National. August 30th 2015.