Tag Archives: A. Mike Burton

Radio stories from the US from last year about prosopagnosia and superrecognizers



Not one but four recently published studies of super-recognition!!!!

And all bar one are open access! Please readers let me know if there are more studies on supers out there.


Bobak A, Parris B, Gregory N, Bennetts R, Bate S (2016) Eye-Movement Strategies in Developmental Prosopagnosia and “Super” Face Recognition. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Posted online: 02 Mar 2016. DOI:10.1080/17470218.2016.1161059


The above paper interesting as it apparently supports the idea that developmental prosopagnosia is a heterogeneous condition and at least the most severe cases are not simply the bottom end of a spectrum of ability. The authors do seem to regard supers as the top end of a spectrum though. Researchers also found that supers and able controls spent more time looking at noses, a finding which I think I recall from another study. It makes sense to me as I feel that great face recognition ability is an automatic and involuntary process (like synaesthesia) that involves perception of the face as a whole “landscape”.


Bobak AK, Dowsett AJ, Bate S (2016) Solving the Border Control Problem: Evidence of Enhanced Face Matching in Individuals with Extraordinary Face Recognition Skills. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148148. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148148




Bobak AK, Hancock PJB, Bate S. Super-recognisers in Action: Evidence from Face-matching and Face Memory Tasks. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 2016;30:81–91. doi: 10.1002/acp.3170



Robertson DJ, Noyes E, Dowsett AJ, Jenkins R, Burton AM (2016) Face Recognition by Metropolitan Police Super-Recognisers. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0150036. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150036



Anna Bobak and Dr Sarah Bate have been busy!


Recognizing relatedness in the face – could a super-recognizer perform better than software?

I believe that I probably could out-perform both of the interesting kinship recognition computer programs that are discussed in this most interesting recent article in New Scientist magazine, but there is still a lot to be learned from the researchers’ efforts to develop software that can detect whether two people in photographs are related. The first program described in this article had a success rate of 68% in detecting parent-child matches, the second program a 71% success rate, and people (presumably with average ability in face recognition) had a success rate of 67%. I’d love to see a similar study done with super-recognizers compared to normal human controls or pitted against a computer program. My money would be on nature’s best, rather than the latest technology.

It’s interesting to note that the first program described uses a method which I think is very different to natural face recognition, analysing fine details of the picture, while human face recognition is thought to be a process of identifying an overall pattern rather than looking at the picture piece-by-piece. The focus on details of this program appears to give the program a fair degree of robustness and flexibility in dealing with variations in the appearance of faces in photos. As researchers have found in another study (published online in the journal Cognition) , there can be considerable variability in the appearance of the same face in different photographs, and while people who are familiar with a face are able to identify the same face in different photos, people who were unfamiliar with that face did not have whatever it takes to be able to overcome variations among different photos of the same person to identify the photos as being of the same person. Clearly there is something in the memory of a person who is familiar with a face which gives their ability to recognize that face a great robustness and flexibility. I wonder what it is?

A quote from the New Scientist article: “Lu reckons that improved algorithms could be used to help determine kinship when DNA testing isn’t an option. “It can also help refugees find dispersed family members,” he suggests.” I believe that with my well above average ability in face recognition I would probably perform well in these types of tasks. I would love to work in a job or a business in which I was identifying faces or picking out related people from photographs or identifying people who have a genetic similarity (I can be contacted through leaving a comment on a blog post). Face recognition is an ability with applications that go way beyond personal socializing. Superior face recognition could be useful in many important areas of work, including law enforcement, private detective work, social work (working with adopted people or displaced families) and medicine (identifying genetic syndromes), and it appears that the current state of technological development of face photograph recognition technology is at a pretty basic level, only marginally better than the ability of the average person. In contrast, super-recognizers have a face recognition ability that far exceeds that of normal people, and I have good reason to believe that I could be a superrecognizer. I feel quite confident about my ability to detect kinship or genetic similarity from looking at people’s faces because I believe that is probably what I was involuntarily doing when I experienced The Strange Phenomenon, which I have described in the first post in this blog. Last month the British Sunday Times newspaper reported that London’s Metropolitan Police force have an elite squad of super-recognizers who have proven to be much more useful than face recogition technology. “The Met” are actively searching for more superrecognizers within their ranks to help with the huge task of identifying faces in many hours of CCTV images of the English riots. It seems odd to me that so much research is being done on creating and improving technology in face recognition when we have only just started to understand the naturally-occuring human ability in face recognition that has always existed.

Facial recognition software spots family resemblance
7 December 2011 by Kate McAlpine
Magazine issue 2842
New Scientist

Rob Jenkins, David White, Xandra Van Montfort, A. Mike Burton Variability in photos of the same face. Cognition. Available online 3 September 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027711002022

A Most Peculiar Experience  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Face photographs unsuitable as proof of identity due to within-person variability?  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/face-photographs-unsuitable-as-proof-of-identity-due-to-within-person-variability/

Face photographs unsuitable as proof of identity due to within-person variability?

This new journal paper raises some uncomfortable questions about the widespread and long-standing reliance on photographs as a means of identification of individuals for security purposes, and I guess also in legal systems. This paper also possibly has some implications for understanding The Strange Phenomenon, which is extraordinarily sensitive to the angle at which one face is viewed. The Strange Phenomenon only ever happened fully when I viewed John’s face* from around a 45 degree angle in natural light (outdoors), from before he gained a bit of weight. These were the exact conditions that triggered The Strange Phenomenon, which I believe is a neurologically-based sensory experience that is a hybrid of synaesthesia and face recognition. John’s face viewed from other angles didn’t trigger the effect, so it is as though my unconscious mind saw his face from one particular angle as a quite different “thing” than his face viewed from other angles, which seems to be in accord with this study’s finding that different photos of the same face can look like different faces. This also supports my observation that John’s face is a bit of an curiousity in that it takes on a very different character from profile compared to full-face, the front view looking quite young and innocent, while his profile looks a bit villanous and more masculine. If you wish to read about The Strange Phenomenon, take a look at the first post in this blog.

We still have so much to discover about a cognitive function as ordinary and taken-for-granted as face recognition. We have yet to fully comprehend how amazing our brains really are.

* Not his real name.

Rob Jenkins, David White, Xandra Van Montfort, A. Mike Burton Variability in photos of the same face. Cognition. Available online 3 September 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027711002022

A link between autism and super-recognizer ability, or am I reading this wrong?

I was just having a look at an Australian/UK study of face recogniton ability that was published last year in the open-access science journal PLoS One. The subjects in one of the two studies reported in this paper were parents of autistic kids, and they were tested with the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT). The CFMT happens to be one of the tests that were used in the 2009 paper by Russell, Duchaine and Nakayama that established the concept of the super-recognizer. There are a couple of problems with comparing scores between these different papers – the 2009 paper used both the short and long forms of the CFMT and gave raw scores, while the 2010 paper used only the 72 question short form of the CFMT and gave age-standardized z-scores based on a study of the Australian population. But having looked at the 2009 study I don’t think the long form does that much better a job of sorting the super-recognizers from the controls than the short form does.

I’m happy to stand corrected, but to my eye it looks as though there is an interesting score in the CFMT reported in Figure 2 of the 2010 paper. If the vertical axis is in standard deviations then I guess that the top score from a father of an autistic child that is nearly level with the number two is close to super-recognizer class. He almost looks like an outlier. According to the authors of the 2010 paper, none of the parents of autistic kids in this study scored in the range of prosopagnosics, who apparently typically score less than two standard deviations below the control mean.

Definitions of prosopagnosiacs and super-recognizers can be found in the 2009 paper; “Most developmental prosopagnosics we have tested in our laboratories score around 2–3 SDs below normal on the CFMT short form. In comparison, 3 super-recognizers scored around 2 SDs above the mean on the CFMT long form.” It appears that the short and long forms of the CFMT are comparable with regard to SDs and face-blindness, and also I presume with regard to super-recognizers. What would really be interesting would be to see what kinds of scores the autistic kids would get on these tests.


Wilson CE, Freeman P, Brock J, Burton AM, Palermo R (2010) Facial Identity Recognition in the Broader Autism Phenotype. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12876. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012876

Russell R, Duchaine B, Nakayama K Super-recognizers: people with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 2009 Apr;16(2):252-7. http://pbr.psychonomic-journals.org/content/16/2/252.full.pdf      http://visionlab.harvard.edu/members/ken/Ken%20papers%20for%20web%20page/157Russell_supersPBR.pdf