Tag Archives: Eyes

Person recognition a crucial point in plotline in another classic movie?

We stayed up late to watch the 1940s classic movie Gaslight the other night. What an amazing story and brilliant acting from Boyer and Bergman! Charles Boyer was not an unusually handsome man, but her certainly knew how to use his eyes, and he also knew how to use his voice.

Was it the detective recognizing a family resemblance between Paula and her late aunt that caught the attention of the detective, or was it that combined with a visual recognition of Serges Bauer?



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!


Ear recognition the key, not face recognition?

One of the stories on 60 Minutes (Australian) a couple of weeks ago was interesting in terms of the visual and forensic recognition and identification of a person. The title of the true story was The Imposter,  reported by Karl Stefanovic and produced by Gareth Harvey. The story was about the missing American boy Nicholas Barclay and the French serial impostor Frédéric Bourdin who pretended to be the missing boy grown older. A documentary film about this story was released this year. Amazingly, he was believed by close relatives of the missing boy even though his eyes and hair were of a different colour to the missing boy, his age was a mismatch, he had a French accent, and of course a different face. The most disturbing aspect of the story was how an obvious faker found in Spain could have been misidentified as a missing American boy by police, the FBI and the US immigration department, and then legally documented as the missing boy and flown to the USA. These organizations are full of blind people? I guess these organizations must have a great record for employing the disabled, but also a lousy record for doing their jobs accurately. I’m not sure if these organizations need to recruit some super-recognizers, or just need to employ more people with basic thinking and decision-making skills and a firm grasp on rationality.

An interesting feature that this case shares with the baffling Australian mystery the Taman Shud Case or the Mystery of the Somerton Man is the forensic examination of ears to identify a person. The French impostor was busted by private investigator Charlie Parker who noticed that the ears of Barclay and  Bourdin did not match. ”I asked the cameraman to zoom in on his ears, because I knew that was the way to identify people for sure; I had read a book about Scotland Yard doing that.” This is another thing that amazes me about this case; I don’t understand why the ears were seen as a more certain way to prove that the man with the French accent wasn’t the American missing boy than the different colours of the irises of their eyes or their clearly different faces. Why are ears seen as a more objective measure? Because they are an overlooked part of the body that people don’t cosmetically alter much? It makes me wonder whether our culture has been misled into thinking that face recognition by humans is a subjective art because of instances of facial misidentifications by some prosopagnosics whose disability isn’t understood. Most people are very good at identifying faces of other people from their own race, and are also naturally very good at identifying voices. Some people are exceptionally good at remembering faces. There are times when we need to trust our own natural abilities and use our common sense.

Missing boy and the will to believe. by Stephanie Bunbury Sydney Morning Herald. February 23, 2013


60 Minutes. http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8633767

Somerton Beach Mystery Man. Reporter: Simon Royal. Stateline (South Australia) Broadcast: 15/05/2009  http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/sa/content/2006/s2573273.htm

Faces of the same woman?

There’s a compelling bit of forensic face recognition on the front page of today’s West. Unfortunately the photos of the faces of whistleblower Ashton Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be is not shown in the online version of the news story. Do you think they are photos of the same person? I can only pick a few differences, none of which definitely rules out a match. I think the photo on the left is of a younger, slimmer, more miserable or tired woman, perhaps with darker skin. I get a feeling of African-American racial identity from the face on the left but not the one on the right. Why is unclear, and it could be based on stereotyping. The photo on the left is, I presume, a mugshot, the one on the right apparently not. Perhaps the cues that a photo is a mugshot make me unconsciously associate it with African-Americans. Psychology research finds that most people operate on racist stereotypes even if we aren’t consciously racist.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is that the one on the left has eyes that seem darker. This difference in the eyes could possibly be a result of lighting, because the eye is a three-dimensional thing, and when we look at an eye we literally look into an eye, at the pupil and the iris, which are inside the structure of the eye. I’ve been perplexed when viewing video of people who have light-coloured eyes and there are moments when one or both eyes seem to darken or pupils seem to enlarge greatly, giving a scary effect, but what’s really happening is that the angle of the light changes and the eye is becoming insufficiently lit to display their light-coloured irises.

The hair, hairline, ear profile, shoulder slope and most aspects of the faces seem to match. I would very much like to see profile shots of Ms Foley and the American woman she is alleged to be, to see if the ear shape matches. Ear shape is apparently as unique and identifiable as the face. Ear shape was an important factor in trying to solve the fascinating Taman Shud case in Adelaide.

As Ms Foley suggests, fingerprints need to be checked, even though the forensic science of fingerprints has been seriously bought into question. As a super-recognizer I don’t have a strong intuition or feeling of recognition about the question of identity. I can’t rule out a match, but that doesn’t prove a match.


A bit of a mind-f***

There I was in that suburb, and I needed to make a purchase at that particular retail outlet, and again I was served by that nice sales assistant who is the double of my dear sibling, and I once again found the facial similaritiy quite unnerving, and once again the oddness of the experience rather took me by surprise.

Is there an Australian face?

I think there is something very Australian about the face of the former footy player and Australian celebrity of the 1980s, Mark “Jacko” Jackson. While Mr Jackson’s very manly jawline makes me wonder about growth hormone levels, his face also has some characteristics which I tend to associate with working-class Australians who are a bit aesthetically-challenged in the facial region. Maybe it is just an odd idea of mine, but I feel that if I were in a foreign country populated with people of generally the same caucasian race as Australians, and I saw a cheerful face in the crowd that has thin lips, a clumsily large but not hooked nose, and eyes that are the opposite of big and pretty and seem to be obscured by fleshy lids, while not being Asian eyes, I think I’d feel that I was looking at another Australian, more likely from one of the eastern states than from WA. Many of the first European people to establish a British colony in Australia were convicts. If there is indeed a generic Australian face, discernable from a generic English face or a generic American face, I doubt that it is a pretty face, but I feel that it might be a friendly face.

I’m an Individual by Mark Jackson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0Q5JFHrGNk&feature=share&list=LPtMwdywLz3dM

A very lippy gash, things with personalities, animals who are people and a man who is a lion….very strange

How many personified inanimate objects can you count in the TV show linked to below; Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy? There’s the screwed-up chocolate stick soldier/teacher, the French signer made of croissants, the verbally abusive wound in the arm of Sgt Raymond Boombox (my personal favourite), the misunderstood mountains who go tisk tisk, the thing with a conch shell for a head, etc. And how many animals can you count that behave like people? There’s a  ruthless and deadly WWI flying ace dolphin, Dondylion, his disturbing animal companion, a spoon snake, and no doubt many more. There even seems to be an example of a real person being seen as having the characteristics of an animal; “David Lee Roth, King of the Lions”. I can see that – Roth (lead singer of Van Halen) did once have a mane and had a King of the Jungle sort of attitude, with great physical confidence. He was on the prowl. He was covered in fur.

What is psychedelia? What is psychedelic television? If it is a creative collision of concepts that shouldn’t but do go together, presented in a surreal, striking and colourful visual style, then Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy must be the only example of the genre that I’m aware of. That’s interesting – synaesthesia is also a collision of concepts that shouldn’t but do go together, and it is often very colourful, surreal and striking, and most types of synaesthesia seem to involve the sense of vision. There’s a belief that synaesthesia and creativity are linked. Psychedelic television and synaesthesia appear to have a collection of characteristics in common. What are we to make of this? The hyper-awareness of colour manifested in this television series is equal to the hyper-awareness of colour that I found in the autobiography of the synaesthete author Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory. Colour doesn’t mean this much to non-synaesthetes, not quite.

I’m reminded of the most psychedelic neuroscience journal paper that I’ve read this year – the one comparing auras in mysticism and synaesthesia, by Spanish researchers, which was published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. These researchers described a number of most interesting synaesthetes who had some interesting types of synaesthesia, including one person who experiences people-animal synaesthesia, in which a person might be seen by the synaesthete as having “the face of a bird of lion”. What’s the betting that this synaesthete would see in an instant David Lee Roth’s lion-like characteristics? I don’t know how anyone could miss it really. Does one need to be a synaesthete to see how much some people resemble animals? Noses can be beaks, people can be pigs and some of us do look horsey, or bug-eyed.

After very much enjoying the whole first series of Noel Fielding’s extraordinary TV series, (and keenly anticipating the next one), I can’t help feeling that personification and personality-related synaesthesia in general must have been one of the main ingredients that went into the creation of this strange psychedelic treat. The personification of inanimate objects and other forms of fusion or confusion of supposedly different states of being are themes that pop up constantly in this TV series. So many aspects of the series remind me of synaesthesia, in its various forms. Is it the creation of a synaesthete mind? What goes on inside Noel Fielding’s brain? Many people have wondered.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy http://youtu.be/u-HaEEv2p_o

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)

Van Halen Panama http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-NshzYK9y0

A 100% certain sighting – what makes a face interesting?

I have had the unexpected opportunity to see Jean properly at close range for the first time in something like ten years, and I’m thoroughtly disgusted that she doesn’t look any older. There’s no doubt that I’ve changed for the worse. I’d like to know her secret. Jean is notable because her face, and to be completely correct, her personality as manifested in her face and voice and typical expressions, is the concurrent in a particularly interesting type of synaesthesia which I experienced on a few occasions over a period of a few months a couple of years ago. It was an interesting type of synesthesia because it appears to be a mixture of synaesthesia and face recognition, experienced by a person (me) who gets face memory test scores in the range consistent with being a super-recognizer. I believe I am the first and the only person in the world to describe such an experience, which I gave the title of The Strange Phenomenon. Jean is working in pretty-much the same job for the same large organization that she was working in ten-odd years ago. Maybe she had always been doing shifts here and there somewhere. The day I met her was a chance deviation from my usual routine in my usual neighbourhood.

This sighting has given me the opportunity to answer a few questions about Jean’s appearance and The Strange Phenomenon that have been unanswered for a couple of years. Firstly, Jean does have a face that has many features that look the same as John’s face (John’s face is the inducer or trigger of the particular type of synaesthesia). Jean’s colouring, nose, lips and ears do look similar to John’s. Both wear glasses and short hair all the time and both have uninteresting, drab eyes. John is always clean-shaven. Despite these similarities, she isn’t John’s female double, as I think their faces have quite different shapes. When I saw Jean I didn’t think “Wow, looks like John!”, I thought “Wow, it’s Jean, and the ***** hasn’t aged!” The sight of Jean’s face did not trigger any type of synaesthesia, and it did not trigger any memory or vision of John’s face. I can’t completely rule out the possibility that The Strange Phenomenon might work as a two-way type of synaesthesia, because I didn’t stare at Jean’s face for long, and I think The Strange Phenomenon takes some time to be set off. It requires a quite focused attention, which is I think pretty typical of synaesthesia.

I now think it is plausible that The Strange Phenomenon happens solely because from a certain angle Jean and John’s faces look similar in a sufficient number of ways that it triggers some critical threshold of visual recognition (and be reminded that it only happened when John’s face was viewed under specific conditions from a 45 degree angle). Perhaps there is more to it than that, because there is still the question of why my mind would retain a visual memory for several years (with amazing clarity) of the face and manner of a woman who was nothing more to me than a person occasionally seen at the other side of a service desk. I’ve previously explained that I find John’s face more interesting than most and it holds my attention, and I’d say the same about Jean’s. She is one of the many quite unfortunate people who are born with facial features that can subtly give the false impression of a particular mood by virtue of the innate shape of one or more features. Sometimes people with heavy or oddly-shaped eyebrows have a look of gravity that isn’t really a reflection of their true mood or personality. Jean happens to have a nose and mouth that give her face a somewhat mean or angry look about it, and I think this aspect of her face frequently unconsciously draws attention from the parts of the brain that monitor facial expressions, and then it is up to the conscious mind to correct the feeling that I might be in the presence of a person in an unsympathetic mood. I think there are some faces which play merry hell with the various face processing modules in the brain, playing one off against the other, creating ambiguity and uncertainty, and I think this might be why some faces are so much more interesting than others. Well, I find them interesting.

Dr Ashok Jansari’s search for super-recognizers finds seven – article in Der Spiegel

According to the English translation of this article, which is available through the Superrecognizers website belonging to Dr Jansari and his team at the University of East London, the search for super-recognizers in London that was conducted late last year into early 2012 yielded 7 super-recognizers out of the 725 people who participated in the testing study at the Science Museum in London, including a surprising find that the brother of Dr Jansari is one of the seven. How strange is that? So, we know that one of the seven super-recognizers is male. What are the genders of the others? I don’t think it says in this article.

Also of interest in the article is information about the elite group of super-recognizer police in London’s Metropolitan Police, with interviews with super-super-recognizer Idris Bada and Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

Hoflinger, Laura Hirnforschung – Superhelden aus dem Museum. Der Spiegel. Volume 11 2012 p.129-131.  http://www.superrecognizers.com/storage/Der%20Spiegel_super-recognizers_March2012.pdf

An English translation can be accessed from here:  http://www.superrecognizers.com/in-the-news/

This is a quote from the translation:

“The neuropsychologist Jansari suspects that his brother and the other super-recognizers process faces in a rather holistic way; they do not focus as much on single parts of the face, like the nose, mouth or eyes.”

If I’m a super-recognizer, then I don’t know if this idea of super-recognizers having more holistic perception with less focus on individual elements explains the difference between us and people with normal levels of ability. I do very much notice individual elements of faces, consciously and unconsciously, as well as recognizing whole faces in a way that feels automatic and uncontrolled. I will notice if different people have mouths or ears that look similar and also distinctive. I recall that a boy I knew when I was a teen and he was a child had a William Shatner mouth, which is a quite an unusual type of mouth where the upper lip looks the larger. Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela seem to have very similar smiles and lower faces, but not identical faces. I think the difference between a super-recognizer and a regular recognizer might be that the former does both holisitc and detailed perception well and also in a well-integrated manner. I believe enhanced brain wiring akin to synaesthesia might be the basis of this enhanced integration of both modes of perception. I suspect that an emphasis on perceiving faces feature-by-feature might be more characteristic of poor face recognition than good face recognition. In the recent CBS 60 Minutes story about prosopagnosia and super-recognizers the prosopagnosic artist Chuck Close was asked to identify the faces of some famous people. He did manage to identify some of the faces and he explained how he did it. He identified Jay Leno from his very unusual chin and picked Tiger Woods from his lips.

It is interesting to see for the first time researchers giving estimates of how common (or rare) super-recognizers might be in the population at large. The seven in seven hundred and twenty-five people tested in the London study suggests that super-recognizers are made by mother nature at a rate of just over 1% of the population, while Dr Jansari’s team give an estimate of 2% for super-recognizers at their website http://www.superrecognizers.com/about/  I guess it all depends on definitions and cut-off points, which are arbitrary. At levels of one or two percent super-recognizers are rare enough to constitute some kind of elite, worth identifying or recruiting if the trait is found to have some value or utility, but are also not so rare that anyone can dismiss the possibility that one could encounter or find a super-recognizer in their community or workplace or social circle. Perhaps super-recognizers should form some kind of association or society or club. The future is anyone’s guess, as this area of scientific inquiry is shiny and new, and we are dealing with a concept that is only a few years old.

At the beginning of the Der Spiegel article there are six photographs of famous people when they were children, which can be used as a mini Before They Were Famous Test if you don’t scroll down too soon and see who they are. How many of them are you able to identify? I picked three of them correctly, and couldn’t guess at the others who were not unknown to me but weren’t hugely familiar either, as I’m not as European as the magazine is. I had seen the photo of the little boy with the big hat before and knew who it is. The thing that really struck me about this photo is the apparent abnormality with the child’s eyes. They don’t match – one is much darker than the other, which seems rather worrying. Some people naturally have irises of different colours, but it isn’t a good thing if pupil sizes don’t match.

I’ve not mentioned before that there are three different types of things to look at which seem to catch my eye in ways that are a maybe bit extreme or distracting. These things are faces (animals and human), cars travelling at a speed of around 40 KPH (especially the wheels), and eyes. I simply cannot abide the sight of eyes that point in different directions, even in the slightest. Glass eyes are the worst, and lazy eyes make me feel ill, even if the owner of them is the nicest person in the world. And some apparently healthy and normal people have eyes that seem to be very slightly out. This seems to happen more often in people whose eyes protrude slightly, for whatever reason, and this type of thing seems to be unusually common among a particular ethnic group from the South Pacific. Another eye issue that sets me on edge is eyes with pupils that don’t look right, because one looks bigger in one eye than the other, or they both seem to be too dilated, bringing to mind the image of a pet cat in an aggressive mood. Have you ever read the classic short story The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe? A bad eye can certainly be quite a distraction, but it isn’t only eye imperfection which catches my eye. I can also become quite distracted by the perfection of good eyes in some circumstances. Newborn babies are such lovely little things with soft, perfect skin, but they are quite limited in things that they can do to express themselves physically. Their limb movements seem random and quite uncontrolled, but the way their eyes move is a display of how perfectly a baby has been put together by nature, because even though the baby might look around in an apparently uncontrolled manner, his or her eyes will usually match perfectly in their movements. This I find fascinating, in a way that seems to owe more to instinct than to intellect. Maybe all mothers find the eyes of young babies fascinating in a way that is strangely compelling. I’m just glad that I don’t live on an island in the South Pacific.

Sex differences in faces? Of course, but where?

I often like to check the stats for this blog, and one of the stats that WordPress makes available is which searchers led readers to my blog. I’ve noticed that this is one recent search: “can one tell difference between gender from face”. This is an interesting question. There must be differences between men and women, and girls and boys that can be detected in faces, because other people and myself are making judgements all the time about the gender of people based on faces alone. I’m sure that for many people a fair proportion of male-to-female transexuals can be picked on their faces alone. Now and then I find that I notice androgynous individuals whose appearance catches my eye because their apparent face gender conflicts with other features of their appearance. This is a thing that I wouldn’t notice at all if faces did not have gendered features that I could detect.

But what are the specific facial features that differ between the sexes? It appears that this is not such a simple question. I see an overall difference, but I’m not completely sure what the different details are. I guess this is a clue that face gender is processed in the brain in at a level where lots of details are integrated, but the individual details alone are not normally consciously perceived. A few years ago there was a fair amount of media coverage of research linking facial width-to-height ratio (WHR) to sexual dimorphism in humans, which is just a fancy scientific term for sex differences. Larger ratios have been linked with maleness, higher levels of aggression in men, and success in competitive pursuits, but it appears that there is conflicting evidence, and this is another scientific theory that might be ready for the recycle bin. My intuition is that the more obvious sex differences in the adult human face can be seen in the jawline and in the eyes and in the browline, males having brow-bones that stick out more but with eyebrows that are lower and closer to the eyes. Women exaggerate this gender difference when they pluck their eyebrows to enlarge the space between the eye and the brow. I have no idea if there is any scientific evidence supporting my beliefs, but it’s common sense really.

Some journal papers about facial width-to-height ratio

Ozener, Baris Facial width-to-height ratio in a Turkish population is not sexually dimorphic and is unrelated to aggressive behaviour. Evolution & Human Behavior. In press. Received 10 July 2010; accepted 22 August 2011. published online 07 November 2011.   http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(11)00082-1/abstract

Carre, Justin M. and McCormick, Cheryl M. In your face: facial metrics predict aggressive behaviour in the laboratory and in varsity and professional hockey players. Proc. R. Soc. B. 22 November 2008 vol. 275 no. 1651 2651-2656. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0873.  http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/275/1651/2651.full