Tag Archives: Cambridge Car Memory Test

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.

Randomly finding studies that have un-noted super-recognizers in them

Don’t assume that if face memory researchers find that they have study subjects who get scores typical of super-recognizers that they will note this fact in the paper or will interpret the data to inquire about the characteristics of super-recognizers. In random internet clicking I keep coming across studies that have super-recognizers in them, and which also appear to have no comment in them about this finding.

Joshua M. Davis, Elinor McKone, Hugh Dennett, Kirsty B. O’Connor, Richard O’Kearney and Romina Palermo Individual Differences in the Ability to Recognise Facial Identity Are Associated with Social Anxiety. PLOS One. Published: December 14, 2011. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028800. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028800

There are two subjects in this study who got scores in the super-recognizer range (71-72 in the short form of the Cambridge Face Memory Test) and three who were pretty darned close with scores of 70, and there were also eleven subjects who scored in the prosopagnosia range of 42 or less in the CFMT short form.

The study measured social anxiety and other things, so what were the findings in relation to the supers and social anxiety? From what I’ve read the cut-off point for social phobia is 36 or more on the SIAS, and none of the supers were anywhere near that, but that is also true for the majority of the subjects who got face memory scores in the prosopagnosia range. Plenty of study subjects got SIAS scores in the social phobia range, but only one of them also had a CFMT score in the prosopagnosia range. Social phobia clearly isn’t explained by issues in face recognition. The study did find a weak correlation between poorer face memory and social anxiety, but I’m surprised that a stronger positive relationship was not found because I think face memory must be pretty important in social functioning. I offer the Dunning-Kruger Effect as an explanation for the weakness of the correlation found. People who don’t know often don’t know what they don’t know and maybe even don’t know that they don’t know. Ignorance is bliss, so they say, and I see evidence of it all around me every day.

In my opinion, the alternative explanation offered to explain the slight correlation between social anxiety and poorer face recognition, that social anxiety could cause the development of poorer face recognition ability, seems unlikely. Kids who are scared of other kids would surely want to keep tabs on who is who, because such kids are likely to be bully-magnets, and certainly not all kids are bullies. I would think in such a situation, a child would have great personal interest in telling the difference between bullies, allies and the general mob, and face memory would seem to be the best tool for this task. That’s just a theory, and often sensible-sounding theories are totally counter to reality, so more research is definitely desirable on this question.

Here’s another study that has super-recognizers in it, but which doesn’t specifically mention or discuss super-recognizers or superrecognition:


[this article to be completed later]

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.