Tag Archives: Dysmorphology

Subtle FAS face from low levels of alcohol detected using computer technology


No safe level in my opinion!

Could super-recognizers see these subtle manifestations?

For important people only

I’ve just discovered the details of this “by invitation only” workshop that was scheduled for February past. I’m guessing the subject of the event was the Perth face-space project, which I have written about previously, but the description of the event seems deliberately vague.




Another computer algorithm created to perform a face perception task that any person can do without even thinking

Wenz, John This Algorithm Guesses Your Biological Age Just by Scanning Your Face. Popular Mechanics. April 1st 2015.


“For example, if a person appears to be considerably older than they really are, a doctor might look for something to explain that, whether it’s a genetic disorder or a lifestyle issue.”

I do not doubt the link between appearance of facial aging and genetic syndromes or drug addiction as I personally know of some real-life examples of both, and I don’t doubt that a good doctor should look for this in facial appearance and make appropriate investigations, but I do question why any doctor with normal eyesight and face perception would need a computer to do this, and I also question whether under the current “5 minute medicine” model of general practice in Australia, most doctors would have the time or the inclination to enquire about apparent accelerated physical aging in a patient.

I know of quite a long list of things that might accelerate the appearance of aging in the face, including at least one genetic disorder (I know of one family but do not know exactly which disorder), a drug addict lifestyle, smoking (which apparently destroys some vitamin and thus exposes cells to extra stress), and poorly controlled diabetes. There are probably many more things that can have this effect. Ask your doctor.


Story about Oxford Uni researcher developing computer facial recognition of rare diseases on ABC radio

I just discovered this story from the Science Show on ABC Radio National from earlier this month about researcher Christoffer Nellåker. It sounds a lot to me like the kind of research that researchers in Perth, Western Australia have been busy with in the Perth Face-Space Project.

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again; I’m bemused that so much effort and research is continuing to be put into very sophisticated efforts to create systems for recognizing genetic disorders and diseases in facial appearances, involving sophisticated computer algorithms and photography, to do a job that any super-recognizer could be trained to do with I expect little time and effort. In fact I expect that super-recognizers and people with average levels of face recognition ability naturally have unconsciously-used skills at detecting facial dysmorphology. Who couldn’t pick a case of Down’s syndrome in a crowd, regardless of age or gender? And Treacher Collins is hard to miss, and easy enough to name once you know what it is. I get the point that some of the diseases that can be detected in the face are exceedingly rare, and therefore even a medical specialist would have little or nothing in the way of familiarity with the typical appearance linked to the disease, but I would think it is also true that for any medical case a short-list of diseases will be identified during the diagnostic process, and for each of those diseases, regardless of rarity, there should be some kind of photographic record that can be accessed and studied, and compared against the appearance of the patient. Whichever way you look at it, this job needn’t be rocket science, but as is so often the case, people feel more comfortable in placing their faith in the performance computer system than the skill of a person.

Williams, Robyn Identifying rare diseases from facial images. Science Show. Radio National ABC. December 6th 2014. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/identifying-rare-diseases-from-facial-images/5947924

Saw, Samantha Defining normal. InkWire. April 17, 2014. http://inkwirenews.com.au/2014/04/17/defining-normal/

Poor Kenny

If you have ever doubted that simply looking at faces can be used to identify genetic disorders, consider case of Kenny the (very inbred) white tiger. Even though he is an entirely different species than us, we can tell just by looking at his face that something is seriously amiss. http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/kenny-white-tiger-reveals-price-inbreeding

Beats me why people are designing a computer program to do stuff that a super-recognizer could do standing on their head

Why, why, why do people assume that we need computers to do clever and sophisticated things in face recognition and face perception? Our brains have evolved over millions of years to do this stuff, and some people are even better at this stuff than the amazing feats of visual perception that the average Joe can do with barely a thought or effort.


If Abraham Lincoln had Marfan syndrome, identifiable through his facial appearance, then I guess that means that the Australian politician who was identified as a Lincoln double on the TV show Insiders must have it too.

If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one? Abraham Lincoln

How many other politicians can you think of who could recycle that witty remark?

Jokes aside, its worth taking a look at the larger image of the group of faces in the magazine article, because they change in ways that I find quite fascinating and familiar. Which one do you think looks the most like Alfred E. Neuman? I think the right-edge lower row.

Some ideas that I’d like to (explicitly) lay claim to (right now) in 2014

A note of warning – If you are thinking about copying or plagiarizing any of the text, ideas or descriptions in this post or using it in your own work without giving me (C. Wright, author of the blog “Am I a Super-recognizer?”) the proper acknowledgement and citations, then think again. If you do that you will be found out and my objection will be well publicized. If you believe that you published any of these ideas before I did, please let me know the details in a comment on this article. If you want to make reference to this blog post or any of the ideas in it make sure that you state in your work exactly where you first read about these ideas. If you wish to quote any text from this post be sure to cite this post at this blog properly. There are many established citation methods. If you quote or make reference to material in this blog in your work, it would be a common courtesy to let me know about your work (I’m interested!) in a comment on any of the posts in this blog. Thank you.

The idea that Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy or PCA, a variety of dementia, is caused or develops in a way that can be seen as the opposite of the synaesthesia linked with exceptional visual memory and literacy skills that runs in my family (this idea has been explored previously in this blog).

The idea that the above cited states develop or are caused in a way that makes them seem like opposites because they both affect the same or similar areas of the brain, but in opposite ways.

The idea that the above described process happens because Benson’s syndrome and our variety of synaesthesia are both mediated by the same or similar natural chemical or cells or biological agent in the brain, one caused by high levels of the mystery substance and the other caused by low levels (a hypothesis that I briefly suggested in January 2011).

The idea that one of the many known or unknown elements of the immune system that impact brain development is the mystery substance referred to above (a hypothesis that I briefly outlined in 2012).

The (implied in above ideas) idea of the immune hypothesis of synaesthesia. (This idea was first published by me in 2012 in a blog post archived here, was I believe plagiarized in 2013 here, and was the subject of my plagiarism claim here.)

The idea that one or more of the complement immune chemicals is the  mystery substance referred to above.

The idea that the C3 complement immune chemical  is the  mystery substance referred to above.

The idea that synaesthesia is linked with one or maybe more immune diseases or conditions caused by low levels of complement.

The idea that genes for synaesthesia stay quite common in the gene pool because of some associated cognitive advantage (probably superior memory) that balances out any disadvantages caused by deficiencies in the immune system.

The idea that some or many people unintentionally experience a memory process that operates in a similar way to the method of loci memory technique in their everyday lives, unintentionally forming long-term associations between individual learned concepts and individual visual memories of scenes (I have named this phenomenon Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization or IMLM).

The idea that IMLM operates in such a similar way to synaesthesia that one could argue that it is a type of synaesthesia.

The idea that synaesthetes are more likely to experience IMLM than non-synaesthetes.

The (implied) idea that the method of loci memory technique is similar to or a type of synaesthesia.

The idea that synaesthetes might have a natural advantage in using the method of loci because the method of loci is similar to or is a type of  synaesthesia. This idea that seems likely in light of the case of “S” the Russian memory performer with many types of synaesthesia described by Luria. 

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span.

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span and can thus be used as an indicator of which synaesthetes are synaesthetes due to enhanced synaptic plasticity throughout the life span rather than other possible causes of synaesthesia. Support for this idea comes from the fact that IMLM appears to be a non-developmental variety of synaesthesia that can form new long-term associations in adolescence and adulthood.

The idea that IMLM is a phenomenon that is caused by the unusual possession of levels of synaptic plasticity typical of a young child, during adolescence or adulthood.

The idea that IMLM is caused or enhanced by some characteristic of the immune system that affects the functioning of the brain. Many different elements of the incredibly complex immune system are thought to affect the functioning or development of the brain, and could thus be involved in IMLM, including the complement system, microglia and the MHC class I molecules. Researchers such as Beth Stevens and Carla Shatz have investigated this exciting area of neuroscience. In 2012 I hypothesized at this blog that synaesthesia could be caused by low levels of complement, this idea implying that the immune system is directly involved in synaesthesia (or at least some cases of synaesthesia). I believe these ideas were plagiarized in a paper published in 2013.

The idea that IMLM is similar to the “Proust phenomenon” in that it is very similar to synaesthesia or is a type of synaesthesia and involves episodic or autobiographical memory as a concurrent.

The idea that phonics as a foundational reading skill is similar to or is arguably a type of synaesthesia in that it involves the involuntary association of individual speech sounds with individual printed letters or combinations of letters, as the result of learning in early to mid childhood.

The idea that at least one type of dyslexia is like a deficiency of synaesthesia.

The implied idea that if synaesthesia has as it’s basis hyperconnectivity in the white matter of the brain, dyslexia as an opposite of synaesthesia or a deficiency of synaesthesia is or could be caused by hypoconnectivity in the white matter of the brain (I suspect there might be existing research evidence that supports this idea).

The implied idea that in at least one cluster or grouping of cases synaesthesia is associated with superiority in literacy or reading skill.

The idea that synaesthesia can happen in different regions of the brain, and because of this the experience of various types of synaesthesia can vary in detectable ways because of the influence on the synaesthesia of the varied ways that different areas of the brain operate. This can mean that one synaesthete can experience different types of synaesthesia that operate in very different ways, for example, some types of synaesthesia more rare or spontaneous or intrusive than other types. (I am not completely sure of the originality or the novelty of all of this idea.)

The idea that there is an association between synaesthesia and super-recognition that is not merely coincidental.

The idea that synaesthesia is a type of memory or learning. (Not sure if I’m the first to note this obvious fact).

The idea that synaesthesia concurrents are re-experienced memories, or re-activated “learnings” of concepts, not perceptions. (Not sure if I’m the first to note this obvious fact). In support of this idea I can assert that synaesthesia is like face recognition in that both are visual memory-based phenomena which are subject to the Verbal Overshadowing Effect or something very similar. My assertion that synaesthesia is subject to the verbal overshadowing effect is based on my own observations (outlined elsewhere in this post).

The idea that super-recognizers should or could be trained and employed as expert consultants in the practice of medical genetics.

The idea that medical geneticists and all types of medical specialists need to have a super-recognizer level of face memory or face recognition ability, so that they can intuitively and quickly recognize medical facies.

The idea that there is no clear point of distinction between medical facies or faces associated with genetic syndromes and normal faces.

The idea that super-recognizers could be used to facially identify blood relatives of a person or persons.

The idea that super-recognizers could be used to facially identify the specific ethnicity of a person.

(below ideas added January 28th 2014)

The idea that super-recognition or being a super-recognizer could develop as the result of an unusual level of fascination with the visual appearance of landscapes or scenes, rather than from a fascination with faces, and thus be a side-effect hyper-development of a part of the brain that serves two similar functions.

The idea that super-recognition or being a super-recognizer could, at least  in some cases, develop as the result of a general hyper-development of the visual sense to compensate for problems in the auditory sense during childhood such as temporary deafness, recurrent ear infections, glue ear or poor auditory processing.

(below idea added February 1st 2014)

The idea that lexical-gustatory synaesthesia is an exaggerated form of some kind of evolutionary adaptation in the brain that biologically primes the mind to attend to or react to speech on the subject of food (this idea was discussed at this blog in a post dated January 27th 2011, with more consideration in a later post).

(below ideas added February 6th 2014)

The idea that creativity might be immediately enhanced during and only during the duration of physical or visual-spatial activity because the activity activates areas of the brain associated with movement and in turn these areas activate other areas of the brain including those that give rise to conceptual thinking, and the increased activation makes novel associations between diverse thoughts and concepts more likely, and that this process is like synaesthesia or is a type of synaesthesia, and the types of physical activity that are the most effective inducers of this effect might be highly specific, highly specific in effects, highly varied between individuals and highly idiosyncratic, as is typical of synaesthesia inducers and concurrents. Driving a car can act as an inducer of this effect. (I have gone some way to exploring this idea in past posts.)

The idea that mental flexibility might be immediately enhanced by the above effect, which I will name “movement – thought-flexibility synaesthesia”.

The idea that thinking might be immediately enhanced by the above effect.

The idea that memory might be immediately enhanced by the above effect.

The idea that the above effect is similar to embodied cognition or is a type of embodied cognition.

(below ideas added February 14th  and  February 20th 2014)

The idea that synaesthesia is like the process of face recognition (and vice versa), because they both

– are subject to the verbal overshadowing effect or something similar

– are automatic

– are involuntary

– have a sensory inducer, in face recognition always visual, in synaesthesia I think most frequently visual

– have or can have a concurrent that could be described as a memory, a concept or a personality (I’m comparing face recognition with personification synaesthesias and the synaesthesias that I have described at this blog which have visual memories of scenes as concurrents)

– are or can be visual in both the inducer and concurrent

– typically involve the fusiform gyrus

– involve set pairings of inducers and concurrents (same person’s face seen before then recognized later)

– involve set parings of highly specific inducers and concurrents (I recognize that an employee at my local supermarket has a sister who has just started working there too, as their faces and bodies and hair are near-identical, but for the extra acne and the more receding chin of the new employee. They are very similar in appearance but my discrimination is highly specific, just as I can recognize that the green wall on the lower floor of a public library is close to but not quite the same colour as Tuesday.)

– both can have, but do not always have an actual face as an inducer (we can recognize the faces of celebrities in photos, caricatures and art, even seeing Marilyn Monroe’s face in a pattern of brown coffee cups stuck to the wall at the coffee shop at the art gallery.)

(below idea added February 17th 2014)

“My particular interest in personification is my own theory that personification synaesthesia (as experienced by myself) or something like it gives rise to superiority in face memory (or being a super-recognizer) by naturally making the faces of unknown people more memorable and interesting”

The above is a quote from an article that was published at the blog in October 2013.

(below ideas added February 19th 2014)

The idea that the synaesthesia brain is the result of the developmental influence or shaping from, or the adaptation to, the behavioural phenomenon of “flow” as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

The idea that synaesthesia, intellectual giftedness or high IQ and autism or Asperger syndrome seem to coincide more often than chance because gifted and autistic kids are more likely to experience “flow” and this in turn can influence the developing brain in a way that gives rise to synaesthesia.

(below ideas added February 20th 2014)

The idea that the genuine conscious awareness of synaesthesia is a threshold phenomenon that operates in conflict or competition with conscious thinking, meaning that consciously thinking about synaesthesia can inferfere with the perception of concurrents, and synaesthesia must reach a particular level of intensity before it interrupts the experience of consciousness and becomes itself the subject of conscious awareness. I think that the idea that thinking about synaesthesia can interfere with the perception of synaesthesia might be related to the “verbal overshadowing” effect which has been described and debated about by researchers. In fairness I should point out that Mark C. Price speculated in the recently published (2013) Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia that synaesthesia could be subject to the verbal overshadowing effect. My own ideas were arrived upon independently from Price’s writing or work.  I base the ideas of synaesthesia being a threshold phenomenon which can also be interfered with by conscious thinking on a number of my own observations. In direct contradiction to what I had expected to find, my scores for accuracy for individual letters and numbers in The Synesthesia Battery (a scientifically-validated online test of synaesthesia) were lower for the numbers and letters that have colours that I find beautiful and which I have thought about to some degree, while my best accuracy was for the numbers and letters that have the dull and ugly colours. It seems the less I think about the concurrents the more accurately I can percieve them when they are evoked. I have also noticed that most of the types of synaesthesia that I experience I was not consciously aware of before I started to think about and examine the idea of synaesthesia. I never realised that I had complete stability in the colours I associate with months and days of the week till I tested myself. While I had a dim awareness of colour colouring my thoughts, I’d not realised that this worked like synaesthesia till I went looking for a pattern using simple testing. My fine motor movement-visual memories of scenes synaesthesia evokes concurrents that are so fleetingly and subtly experienced that they just feel like random thoughts, and indeed I now believe it is possible that the random thoughts of many or even all people are in fact synaesthesia of various types. I have also observed that there are some very unsubtle and intrusive types of syn that I experience, and they are typically rarely experienced and are associated with people, emotions, faces, singing voices or music that I find striking or novel as inducers. Because of the circumstances of these examples of synaesthesia, I think some kind of threshold is being breached when these types of synaesthesia are experienced by me.

The idea that one of the established defining criteria for synaesthesia, that it gives rise to perceptions or concurrents which are “consistent and generic (i.e., simple rather than pictorial)”, is wrong, and specific categories of memories of complex visual images such as faces and scenes, which are processed in the fusiform gyrus, can also be experienced as genuine synaesthesia concurrents. I base this assertion on the fact that I often involuntarily experience synesthesia concurrents of this type, and I have written about such experiences right from the first post in this blog which was published in 2010. I have also named types of synesthesia that have complex visual memories as concurrents: the strange phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, involuntary method of loci memorization, etc. There are also many accounts or scientific observations of synaesthesia with complex visual concurrents in the scientific literature on synaesthesia.

Personification is no joke! No laughing!

Grumpy Cat was one of the biggest things in popular culture in 2013, winning a Webby Award for the Meme of the Year. The cat is actually a slightly genetically deformed feline who has a face that just happens to appear to the human eye as though it is expressing human grumpiness. Some of the more inbred breeds of cat also seem to have this dish-pan face look. The attribution of grumpiness to a cat would be an example of the personification of an animal, or to use another term, anthropomorphism of an animal. I think there’s also a psychological phenomenon that goes the other way – I know people who look like grumpy Persian cats or owls or pigs or horses…. A type of synaesthesia in which people resemble animals has been noted in a very interesting 2012 research paper, which could I guess be an extreme manifestation of the common tendency to see animal form in the faces of some people.

In my blog I have been exploring the idea that whichever areas of the brain give rise to personification, including the varieties of personification that are now classified as types of synaesthesia, and maybe also the attribution of animal form to some human faces, are also parts of the brain involved with face recognition or superiority in face recognition or face memory. It’s all about recognizing visual patterns and linking those patterns with stored memories of living beings, be they animals or individual people. So this personification bizzo is very serious stuff, and I’m glad to say that the grumpy cat appears to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

Grumpy Cat Images. Know Your Meme. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/grumpy-cat/photos

Wikipedia contributors Grumpy Cat.  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Grumpy_Cat&oldid=588597988

E.G. MilánO. IborraM. HochelM.A. Rodríguez ArtachoL.C. Delgado-PastorE. SalazarA. González-Hernández Auras in mysticism and synaesthesia: A comparison. Consciousness and Cognition.  Volume 21 Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 258–268.http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810011002868  (This paper is clearly a translation and difficult reading in parts)

Why might super-recognizer abilities have evolved?

There are a number of general areas and applications of face perception that I believe must be enhanced or superior in people who have excellent face recognition ability (super-recognizers?):

1. Identifying the same individual human on different occasions – face recognition

2. Identifying one’s own blood relatives or non-relatives, including a male adult perceiving whether or not an infant is one’s own genetic offspring or not. Things like hair and eye colour don’t always “breed true” and aren’t very specific, while facial features are much more distinctive and numerous.

3. Identifying blood ties among others

4. Identifying individuals who have unusual genetics or genetic anomalies, including genetic syndromes that might impact on the appearance of the face and/or the body, and also health, behaviour, intellect and/or personality

What possible significance do each of these applications of face perception have in terms of natural selection?

1. Keeping track of who does what (to who)…. Judging the character of individuals by the observed actions of individuals over a number of different interactions or observations.

2. Being able to judge the degree of relatedness of others in relation to one’s self must surely be a very useful ability in evolutionary biology. One of the biggest losers in the game of “selfish genes” is the cuckold who mistakenly raises another guy’s kids as though they are his own. He not only misses out on passing on his genes to the next generation, but he also gives two cheaters a free ride, genetically speaking, and thus also possibly misses out on the chance of devoting his resources to his own blood relatives who might not be his own offspring (kin selection). From the Wikipedia, on kin recognition: “…. if individuals have the capacity to recognize kin (kin recognition) and to adjust their behaviour on the basis of kinship (kin discrimination), then the average relatedness of the recipients of altruism could be high enough for this to be favoured.” According to the Wikipedia birds even have powers of egg recognition that can be used in response to the cuckoo-type scenario of brood parasitism: “Recognition of parasitic eggs is based on identifying pattern differences or changes in the number of eggs.”

3. Identifying blood ties among others will give a few clues about the probable loyalties and alliances of others, and it may also help to predict the behaviour of others based on observed behavioural familial traits.

4.  Identifying individuals who have genetic anomalies or unusual genetics could possibly be useful for many reasons. Such individuals might be particularly hard to predict about in terms of health, longevity, behaviour or abilities (impaired or enhanced abilities). One may wish to avoid mating with such risky stock, or to the contrary. One may wish to avoid forming trusting relationships (peer or unequal) with such individuals. Such individuals might be useful allies because they diversify the skill base of the team. Such individuals might be highly exploitable. Such individuals might bring interesting new genes to the gene pool of the family/tribe.