Australian super-recognizer suffers from social embarrassment after misidentifying stranger as an acquaintance

The amazing thing is that I had earlier seen the acquaitance at the same event, and I hadn’t noticed a difference in hair colour (different hue, same degree of darkness) between the two, possibly because I focus on faces and voices more than hair.

How did this error happen? Well, the stranger was a sibling of the acquaintance, of the same gender, build, age and hairstyle as the acquaintance, and both were attending the same event, and both have quite distinctive faces with a strong family resemblance in the entire face, not just in a couple of features. The family resemblance brings the siblings’ faces closer in similarity of appearance, while the shared distinctiveness of their faces pushes them away from resembling the faces of any randomly-chosen face of an unrelated person of the same race, age and gender. I would even argue that my misidentification was in fact a correct identification of pretty much the same face that happens to be shared by two people rather than the one individual, as is normally the case with faces, rather like the situation in which you meet by chance the twin of a person you know when you weren’t aware that the person you know has a twin. No, the siblings both now known to me are not twins. Yes, other people have made the same mistake in identification.

Is there anything to be learned from this mistake? I guess it shows that at least in my case, super-recognition is not about having a photographic memory or a memory for every single visual detail, but is more to do with detecting similarity, not just in one or a few visible features, but in an entire pattern made up of features, which as a whole can be distinctive, memorable and identifiable. Is super-recognition a superiority in memory for visual patterns?

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  • melissa  On April 20, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    Good afternoon,

    I was wondering if there was a term for someone who notices everything…. or even a test?

    I’ve been teased my whole life – called things like “eagle eye” because I notice everything and those closest to me get annoyed because literally nothing escapes me. I hear everything, I see everything and I can read body language so well I’ve thought about doing a course on it to test myself. It’s mostly people related although I do have a very sharp eye for spotting things – lost things, things on tv that others missed, anything and everything really. It’s hard to explain.

    The body language thing is – how do I explain this – almost split into two types – emotional, where I can read how someone is feeling (which sounds obvious I guess but more than just an obvious sign like a frown) and physical where I can see something is wrong. So for example – I have a theory that very well known English entrepreneur has Parkinson’s disease. I have no reason to believe this other than having watched them on TV. Although most people, when I ask if they see what I see when they watch that person on tv, don’t see anything which is frustrating.

    I often feel like I’m three steps ahead of people when it comes to working out things – I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, just that it frustrates me because I have to either explain what is going or wait for them to catch up, or pretend I haven’t understood.

    I call it hyper-aware and it’s not always a good thing. It also makes me massively insecure at times. Sometimes I don’t want to notice and just relax but it’s hard to control and switch off.

    Anyway – I wondered if there was a term for people like this or a test? I don’t even know how you go about testing it to be honest but thought I’d ask.

    Cheers,
    Melissa

    • C. Wright  On April 21, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Thanks for your interesting comment Melissa! I think the answer could be as simple as you have a high level of intelligence. An intelligence test score of over 120 is a commonly-used definition of gifted. I also think you might be the type of person discussed in a new study that I’ve been meaning to write about at this blog but have been too busy. I think I’m this type of person (high on personality trait of openness and has perceptual abilities that are also open to noticing things that others don’t), but I know that one of our kids has always, even as a baby had this ability to visually see stuff that others don’t to a way higher degree than me. I also suspect that synaesthesia or being a superrecognizer might be linked to this altered perception. Are you either of these things? Anyhow, here’s stuff about the study: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2127804-creative-people-physically-see-and-process-the-world-differently/ and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092656617300338

      I think I did the binocular rivalry test many years ago as a part of a science education activity and as I recall I got an unusual result showing a lack of dominance of one side of the brain over the other or something. Maybe this test is available online. I don’t have time right now to Google it.

      Cheers,
      Caroline.

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