Tag Archives: Family resemblance

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?



Ever noticed how the faces of couples often look a lot alike?

I notice it all the time, and perhaps this has something to do with being a super-recognizer. It seems to be especially common among couples that include a murderer or a politician. You should consider assortative mating or narcissism before you assume incest.





Australian super-recognizer suffers from social embarrassment after misidentifying stranger as an acquaintance

The amazing thing is that I had earlier seen the acquaitance at the same event, and I hadn’t noticed a difference in hair colour (different hue, same degree of darkness) between the two, possibly because I focus on faces and voices more than hair.

How did this error happen? Well, the stranger was a sibling of the acquaintance, of the same gender, build, age and hairstyle as the acquaintance, and both were attending the same event, and both have quite distinctive faces with a strong family resemblance in the entire face, not just in a couple of features. The family resemblance brings the siblings’ faces closer in similarity of appearance, while the shared distinctiveness of their faces pushes them away from resembling the faces of any randomly-chosen face of an unrelated person of the same race, age and gender. I would even argue that my misidentification was in fact a correct identification of pretty much the same face that happens to be shared by two people rather than the one individual, as is normally the case with faces, rather like the situation in which you meet by chance the twin of a person you know when you weren’t aware that the person you know has a twin. No, the siblings both now known to me are not twins. Yes, other people have made the same mistake in identification.

Is there anything to be learned from this mistake? I guess it shows that at least in my case, super-recognition is not about having a photographic memory or a memory for every single visual detail, but is more to do with detecting similarity, not just in one or a few visible features, but in an entire pattern made up of features, which as a whole can be distinctive, memorable and identifiable. Is super-recognition a superiority in memory for visual patterns?

Classmates could see that they are really sisters

This amazing true crime story shows the utility of visual recognition of family resemblance, by children and adults, as a forensic tool. What was it about the way the sisters look that gave the clue that one was the missing sibling stolen as a newborn from a South African maternity hospital? Facial resemblance? The way they moved? Their expressions? Body shape? All of the above?



More thoughts on Somerton Man

I’ve written about this mysterious Australian crime case before at this blog, and I’ve just started watching an online video of Sunday’s 60 Minutes story about this case, and I’ve got some observations about the appearance of the body shown in photos in the 60 Minutes (Australia) story.

He did have odd-looking ears and I don’t doubt the idea that this trait would be genetic and could be traced in a descendant, as I’ve read somewhere. The ears could certainly be useful for identification of the body.

I don’t know if he was a spy for the Ruskies back in the Cold War era, but I doubt that he was of Russian stock. I feel that he had a very Australian-looking face. I feel that it is the face typical of a race of people founded mostly by British convicts. He’s got that street-smart look, that Aussie look, that normal look. I don’t feel that he looks like a foreigner.

Lastly, I wouldn’t speculate one way or another whether the potential grand-daughter of Somerton Man is actually his descendant, based on their ears and faces, except that I think it is possible.


A royal question

Today the world is focused on a new baby in the English royal family, so I thought it might be a good opportunity to ask a question of superrecognizers all over the world. Who do you believe is the biological father of Prince Harry (Henry)? James Hewitt or Prince Charles?

A new generation of those people?

I’m sure that I’ve met Jean’s daughter or maybe her niece. She’s a dead-ringer for Jean*, except for a slightly different hair colour and no glasses. She has exactly the same job as Jean, but a different employer. Even her first name is similar to Jean’s. Who are these people? Who are these intelligent almost-clones?

*not her real name

My super-recognition skills applied forensically

Earlier this year I was required to identify a person who broke a law from a police photo-board. As you might expect, this was as easy as falling off a log, because I got a good look at the offender. I was able to identify the offender with great confidence, as well as point out an aspect of the offender’s appearance that had markedly changed between the time I saw the offender and the time when the photo was taken. I was also able to rule out all the other photos as not being photos of the offender, which is actually even more important, because while it is important to prosecute offenders, it is even more important to avoid arresting or prosecuting an innocent person. My successful identification of the offender was confirmed by the police officer who was investigating the matter, which hardly seemed necessary as I was quite sure I was right, unless the offender has a twin or is from one of those families in which siblings look very similar. I should point out that the police officer didn’t immediately confirm that my face identification was correct, because the police have a very thoughtful procedure in place to prevent any possibility that an investigating police officer could influence the process of a witness identifying faces from a photo board.

The usefulness of my skills didn’t end there. I have found my ability to identify family resemblance in faces and in other visual characteristics invaluable in identifying relatives and associates of the offender. I was even able to informally identify an associate completely unconsciously. When I saw this person I felt that he was in some way linked to the offender, but not a blood relative. I took note of his appearance. Later I saw the same person in the company of the offender. I’m not sure whether it was a memory of his appearance or his demeanor at the time which initially caught my attention. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that an associate of the offender has recently dyed their hair black, in an apparent attempt to evade identification, which is a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Dumb people often assume that everyone else is as dumb as they are, but a change in hair colour isn’t likely to fool a super-recognizer, and probably not a person with adequate face and body recognition capabilities.

It appears to me that my superior face recognition ability has given me an edge over other people, because it appears to me that I’m not recognized nearly as often as I identify others, but one can’t be completely sure. One thing that I’m certain of is that super-recognition ability is definitely of value to police, forensic and security work in many different ways, and possibly in ways that no one has for-seen. Police forces need to be sure that they are making the best possible use of the super-recognizers that they already have in their force, and if possible trying to recruit new officers that have this natural and fairly rare ability. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age police recruitment processes are generally blind to the issue of face recognition, superiority or deficits.

Does her face look familiar? Adopted Australian woman still searching for birth parents after 39 years

“This is my face, and I hope to find a face that looks like mine one day…” 

Kim Menta says she has been looking for her birth mother for 39 years. ABC News. October 25 2012. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-25/adopted-woman-waits-39-years-for-apology/4333870

Victoria apologises for forced adoptions. ABC News. October 25 2012.  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-25/victorian-parliament-apologises-over-forced-adoptions/4333238

Gender should be the only difference between these faces

The photograph at the beginning of the Boston Globe news story detailed below is particularly interesting to me, a person who has a natural interest in faces, because the two faces photographed are probably the world’s only example of a set of two human faces in which the only difference between their faces should be a gender-related difference. I don’t know if there are any other sets of identical twins in the world in which one and only one twin is a transgender person who has been treated with a puberty-blocking medication which halts the face-sculpting effects of sex hormones, leaving one twin on the usual developmental trajectory and the other retaining a face that could be judged to be of the opposite gender to the one that both twins were born with. In a nutshell, these are identical twins of different genders. Advances in the way that transgendered people are treated by the medical profession has made the impossible possible. The life story of Nicole Maines (formerly Wyatt Maines) and Jonas Maines and their family is something remarkable. I recommend this fascinating news article.

For over a year I have been on a quest to get a definite answer to the question of whether or not I am a super-recognizer, after unexpectedly getting perfect scores on some face recognition tests. One thing that is possibly a characteristic of a superrecognizer’s perceptions of faces is that I often involuntarily notice that the face of a person who is new to me looks similar to the face of a person whose face is in my memory, sometimes very old memories. This is very much like the experience of recognition of the face of the same person seen on two different occasions. The thing that I find interesting about my pseudo-recognition of a new face is that it transcends gender (like the considerable remaining similarities in the appearances of the faces of Jonas and Nicole). I’m just as likely to notice close similarity between the face of a new person and a face in my memory that is of the opposite gender as I’m likely to notice a close similarity between memorized and newly seen faces of people of the same gender. It’s not that I’m blind to gender, but my mind is able to process gender characteristics of faces and the essential genetically based unique “character” of faces separately, and keep these different types of influence on the appearance of faces quite separate in my thinking. Some examples of this noticing of cross-gender facial similarity would be the time when I was watching a documentary about the Australian rock band The Angels staging a comeback tour with aged and conflicted performers. I was struck by a similarity between the face of Doc Neeson and one of the older matriarchs of our family, who also had Celtic heritage. I hope Mr Neeson never reads this. Another example would be the time when I was viewing a painting by Salvador Dali in which he used an image of the face of the writer Voltaire, in an elderly and cheerful state. Voltaire’s face reminded me so much of the face, and the smile, of another of our family’s matriarchs, who like Voltaire was born in Europe. I think this resemblance owes more to a common lack of teeth and advanced age and a good mood in spite of these things, than it owes to a huge resemblance between unique facial appearance. Both female matriarchs had wide faces. I believe that The Strange Phenomenon, which I described in the first post in this blog, is another example of involuntarily seeing a cross-gender facial resemblance.

I’m also able to process the appearance of a face resulting from colouring quite separately from the look of the actual face. I believe other people are more influenced by things like skin colour, eye colour and hair when recognizing people than I am. My focus is on the face. Lots of people believe there is a close resemblance between the actress Tilda Swinton and the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I think these people are overly influenced by the redhead thing. When I look at Swinton I think “pale and thin” rather than “Gillard-like”.

Perhaps a high degree of attention to features of appearance other than the pure look of a face is a warning sign of poor face memory. We know that prosopagnosics often identify people by non-facial aspects of appearance such as clothes, hair and glasses. Do they also place greater emphasis on colouring, age and gender, or do they also have also trouble processing these aspects of personal appearance?

Led by the child who simply knew.

by Bella English
Boston Globe
December 11, 2011

Wikipedia contributors, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=461577243 (accessed December 14, 2011).

Tilda Swinton totally looks like Julia Gillard (Australian PM)  http://totallylookslike.icanhascheezburger.com/2010/10/07/tilda-swinton-julia-gillard-australian-pm/