Tag Archives: Empathy

Feature article on super-recognition in New Scientist magazine, and more interesting bits and bobs

(I’m going to finish writing this post later)

Unfortunately the interesting new article by Caroline Williams about super-recognizers is mostly behind a paywall, which we’ve got to expect. I like Ms Williams’ work. I’ve just finished reading her other recent feature article for New Scientist about Von Economo neurons, which are found in the anterior cingulate cortex and the fronto-insular cortex. I think one type of synaesthesia which I have experienced rarely and for a limited period might have involved Von Economo neurons. I refer to the time when I used to experience a pleasant flavour when being hugged by one of our kids, when they were little and sweet and cute and had a big smile. Kids grow up and they can turn quite sour in their teens. That’s life I guess. It looks like Williams’ interest in face recognition goes back a long way, as an article by her that appears to be about prosopagnosia from 2006 can be found in the archives of New Scientist.

Perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that today’s TV news has included a national and a state news story about riot investigations in which Australian police and security forces are using face recognition, perhaps super-recognizers, to try to identify participants or offenders. The riots were in some ways very different – one Sydney riot that broke out over the controversial Muslim-baiting movie, and the other riot was in some outer suburb of Perth with another teenage party that got out of control with the help of Facebook. No doubt both riots included many young and alienated people. In the report at the ABC’s 7.30 program linked to below at around 3.30 into the clip there’s a bit that seems to be hinting about police super-recognizers. On the Perth Seven News story there is a warning that the police will be painstakingly reviewing hours of footage or the riots to try to identify people. They’ll need to have a super-recognizer handy.

Williams, Caroline Face savers. New Scientist. 15 September 2012 no.2882 pages 36-39.   online title: ‘Super-recognisers’ have amazing memory for faces.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528821.500-superrecognisers-have-amazing-memory-for-faces.html

Coghlan, Andy Police could create image of suspect’s face from DNA. New Scientist. 14 September 2012.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22271-police-could-create-image-of-suspects-face-from-dna.html

Williams, Caroline Are these the brain cells that give us consciousness? New Scientist. 23 July 2012. no. 2874. p.33-35. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528741.600-are-these-the-brain-cells-that-give-us-consciousness.html

Williams, Caroline Living in a world without faces. New Scientist. 24 November 2006. no. 2579.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19225791.600-living-in-a-world-without-faces.html

Cooper, Hayden Text messages and terror connections inflame Muslim protests. 7.30. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Broadcast: 17/09/2012.  http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3592083.htm

Party riot fears. Seven News. 18 September 2012. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/video/watch/d5538a22-a563-3239-9429-e330f7c58aab/party-riot-fears/

Other cases of synaesthesia involving face perception – I’m certainly not the only one

“In short, for our person–colour synaesthetes the inducer can be sensorial, semantic or a motor one: An emotion, an action, an attitude, facial recognition or sense of familiarity. Then we can speak of synaesthesia, ideaesthesia (Nikolic, 2009) and kinetoesthesia.”

That is a quote from a very interesting paper by Spanish psychology researchers that was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition in March of this year. So we have a case of synaesthesia involving facial recognition described in a science journal. So I’m not the only one in the world. I never thought I was the only one, in fact I think I might have predicted that other cases must exist, somewhere in this blog, based on the observation that functions of the fusiform gyrus are so often involved in the various types of synesthesia (colour perception, letter recognition, word recognition) and face recognition is another function of the fusiform gyrus. I have given a special name to my own experience of facial recognition synaesthesia – “The Strange Phenomenon”, and I described it in great detail in the very first post in this blog. This blog was created as a record of my search to find a scientific explanation for The Strange Phenomenon. The authors of the March 2012 paper also found action-related synaesthesia, which is another unusual type of synaesthesia that I experience which I have also described in detail in this blog. I often experience images in my mind’s eye of sometimes very old memories of landscape scenes from my past triggered by doing fine-motor household chores with my hands.

The question needs to be asked – why have Spanish researchers been able to discover and describe such interesting and complex cases of synaesthesia, while there don’t seem to be comparable case studies from the UK or the US? I’ve never seen people -> animal synaesthesia described or even mentioned as a possibility before reading the fascinating paper that was published in March in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. Perhaps the apparently negative attitude of V. S. Ramachandran towards synaesthete subjects of study gives a clue as to why more interesting synaesthesia case studies seem to be missing from research from English-speaking countries. The famous Rama’s habit of describing synesthesia as a scrambling of the brain grates the first time one reads it and gets very, very old once I’ve seen it in print a few times. On the other hand, perhaps there is nothing wrong with Anglophone synaesthesia researchers, and it is simply the case that the Spanish have more interesting minds, including Spanish synaesthetes. Having viewed paintings by Dali and photos of buildings by Gaudi and witnessed a strikingly original and often quite dangerous performance by La Fura Dels Baus at the Perth International Arts Festival a couple of years ago, I could believe that.

E.G. Milán, O. Iborra, M. Hochel, M.A. Rodríguez Artacho, L.C. Delgado-Pastor, E. Salazar, A. 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)

Synesthesia May Explain Healers Claims of Seeing People’s ‘Aura’. ScienceDaily. May 4th 2012http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120504110024.htm

Ramachandran VS, Miller L, Livingstone MS, Brang D. Colored halos around faces and emotion-evoked colors: A new form of synesthesia. Neurocase. Available online: 25 Nov 2011.  DOI:10.1080/13554794.2011.608366. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13554794.2011.608366   http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~dbrang/images/Ramachandran_NNCS_InPress.pdf

Ramachandran VS The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. W. W. Norton & Company, 2011http://www.amazon.com/The-Tell-Tale-Brain-Neuroscientists-Quest/dp/0393077829  http://books.google.com.au/books/about/The_Tell_Tale_Brain.html?id=Y5vLDglww74C&redir_esc=y (Robert with coloured face aura synaesthesia indicating emotions percieved in others and also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome described on pages 101-102.)

Thomson, Helen Is this proof that spooky auras are real? Short Sharp Science (blog at New Scientist) 14 November 2010. http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/34lNK2/www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/11/auras.html?utm_source=KurzweilAI+Daily+Newsletter&utm_campaign=0ab5dd44ff-UA-946742-1&utm_medium=email/r:t

Have you seen this interesting study of personification synaesthesia and empathy?

I experience personified numbers and letters of the alphabet, involving genders, ages and personalities. Although this experience does not fit into the popular definition of synaesthesia as a mixing up of the senses, it is considered to be a type of synaesthesia and it often coincides with another type of synaesthesia, grapheme->colour synaesthesia, in which numbers and letters are experienced as having their own particular colours. The proper term for this personification of written symbols is Ordinal linguistic personification, and in a recent journal paper it was described as a “benign form of hyper-mentalizing” (Amin et al 2011).

In this blog I’ve argued a number of times that there is a causal relationship between synaesthesia and enhanced face recognition ability, and I believe that whatever parts of my brain give rise to my very good face recognition ability are also the parts of my brain that are responsible for my ordinal linguistic personification (OLP) and my grapheme->color synesthesia. I explained some of this in my post lengthily titled “Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper”.

Here’s some quotes from a journal paper about grapheme personification synesthesia which was published this year in the Journal of Neuropsychology:

“From this mixed pattern of results, we cannot conclude that as a group, personifying synaesthetes exhibit heightened empathy.”

“We suggest that grapheme personification, rather than a peculiar set of claims to be dismissed, is a goldmine for social cognitive neuroscientists and cognitive neuropsychologists alike.”

I certainly agree with that!

Maina Amin, Olufemi Olu-Lafe, Loes E. Claessen, Monika Sobczak-Edmans, Jamie Ward, Adrian L. Williams, and Noam Sagiv
Understanding grapheme personification: A social synaesthesia?
Journal of Neuropsychology. (2011), 5, 255–282.
http://people.brunel.ac.uk/~hsstnns/reprints/2011_Amin_et_al__personification.pdf

Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper.
https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/reflections-on-the-strange-phenomenon-gunning-the-cfmt-letter-personification-in-advertising-and-clue-to-a-possible-cure-for-some-cases-of-prosopagnosia-after-reading-an-old-journal-paper/

News Flash!

I just discovered that I have a close blood relative who experiences mirror-touch synaesthesia. It’s amazing the things that you can discover when you take the time to talk to people. This rellie also shares my grapheme->colour synaesthesia and we also both have colours for days of the week etc and some words, including geographical names. I’d say we have the same gene for sure. I don’t think my rellie is a personifier like me, as I tend to get an amused reaction when I describe the personalities of my letters of the alphabet.

I plan to write a lot more about this, including some of the popular scientific theories to do with empathy and mirror-touch synesthesia. You’ll find it here, if I ever find the time to put my thoughts into type.