Tag Archives: Gifted

Year ends minus a friend

Before 2019 ends, I think it is worth putting on record that this was the year that I lost a good friend, an elderly lady I’d known for many years. Despite belonging to different generations and classes, and despite many ups and downs and misunderstandings and difficulties, we had time for each other, we appreciated each other’s finer qualities, we tolerated each other’s considerable flaws and we were genuinely hoping for all the best things for each other. I can’t say I’ve had many friendships like that, even though I’ve met many acquaintances who, at face value, have many more things in common with myself. Perhaps any kind of friendship is possible when people share a love of gardening and the natural world?

At my friend’s funeral I never expected to hear a description of a rare memory ability, even though my friend had plainly and clearly told me a year earlier that she was able to remember her own life in detail over long periods of time. Was it a memory of every day of her life, or was it flashbacks, or was it an ability to recall the events of any given date in her past? I’m unfortunately quite vague at recalling conversations, but I know at the time I thought my friend’s memory sounded like a case of “highly superior autobiographical memory” or HSAM, previously known as hyperthymestic syndrome. In reply I told my friend that it was the weirdest coincidence that I had read the first neuroscience/psychology journal paper describing this type of ability, and then realised that the person who was the case study was also a time-sequence synaesthete and this was probably an aspect of her memory superiority, and I then informed a leading synaesthesia researcher about this apparent link between synaesthesia and HSAM, and as a result I got a mention in a paper that she wrote and was published exploring this association. And I also have a freakishly good memory ability, mine an extreme memory for faces. After my friend and I both said our bit about our unusual memories, it felt like we were both sitting there, each thinking our friend must be some kind of show-off bullshitter. Me a super-recognizer and my friend a HSAM? What was the chance that such a pair would meet, let alone become friends? It seemed too weird to believe. The topic of conversation changed.

I should never have doubted my friend. At her funeral a eulogy by a third party confirmed my late friend’s claim to an uncanny memory of  life’s events. The first case of HSAM that was described by researchers complained that her memory of past events was too often a re-experiencing of painful experiences, while other (male) cases that came to light later didn’t experience their exceptional memory as a burden. I think my late friend, a widow, was at times vividly haunted by memories of the past. I’m convinced that she had the ability to recall conversations verbatim. Have you ever had an annoyed octogenerian correct your recollection of a past visit by repeating a conversation from weeks ago, word-for-word? I have. I’ll never be able to confirm it now, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if hyperphantasia is a psychological trait that we had in common. One day I’ll find the time to do a test for that.

I know I will never meet another person like my late friend. I also know that she will have been ticked-off that she left this world leaving this world’s problems unresolved. Regardless of her aging and often broken bones, chronic health issues and a sensitivity to life’s mundane disappointments, she was always ready to get up and go out again, and meet new vague, indecisive and forgetful people. I’ll always miss her, but she’s still very much a part of my life.

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism

This is certainly an interesting study, and I can’t see any obvious problem with the way it was done, but as with any study of autism, I believe questions about the validity of the diagnosis of autism must raise questions about the validity of any study of people (adults or children) who have been given that diagnosis.

Is autism a coherent, consistent, clearly-defined, clearly-delineated, natural category that explains purported cases better than alternative forms of diagnosis such as medical, genetic or sensory diagnostic categories? I doubt it. Let’s be clear; autism is nothing more than a multi-faceted description of behaviours, none of them unique to autism, and some quite common among people who have intellectual or sensory disability. There’s no biology, medicine or psychophysics in the core definitions of autism. I know of no validated, objective test designed to measure any of the sensory aspects of autism. Sure thing, autism is associated with countless congenital and genetic disorders, but the scientific validity of those categories doesn’t rub-off onto autism as a scientific category.

I’m a skeptic about the category of autism and I also have questions about diagnostic processes relating to autism and related disorders. We know that children who are purely and solely cases of prosopagnosia can be misdiagnosed with autism, and the literature on gifted and talented children includes many claims that the same can happen to G&T kids. I suspect that intelligence levels are a confounding factor in many studies that are supposed to explore autism or a broader autism phenotype, and I question whether the trend of identifying children as autistic when in the past they might have been identified as intellectually disabled was the great step forward that it is supposed to have been. There’s also the fact that the “testosterone theory of autism” has been around for many years now and has been widely popularized. It is certainly possible that parents and clinicians have been influenced to expect to see “autistic” behaviour in children who are perceived as more masculine than their peers, due to facial appearance or other traits. This conceivably could have a flow-on effect of increasing the chances that a boy or girl with masculine features might be identified as autistic, and this could be behind the effect found in this study.

These kinds of doubts are why in this blog I have never explored autism in terms of facial phenotypes or in terms of face perception deficits in any depth or with much interest. It’s not that I don’t see a problem or problems in these cases. I do, but I believe it is probable that one day in the distant future scientists will look back on the history of the sciences of the mind and wonder why we spent so much time and money researching autism, a concept that was a long, dark, gold-paved dead-end in the journey of scientific progress, while disability remained a constant issue.

Computer algorithm links facial masculinity to autism.  25 August 2017.


Hypermasculinised facial morphology in boys and girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder and its association with symptomatology.
Diana Weiting Tan, Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, Murray T. Maybery, Ajmal Mian, Anna Hunt, Mark Walters & Andrew J. O. Whitehouse
Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 9348 (2017)
06 March 2017
31 July 2017
Published online:
24 August 2017




Lecture by world-class researcher about super-recognition and prosopagnosia

This talk or lecture by Professor Nancy Kanwisher is not new and the content will be nothing new to regular readers of this blog, but it is a nice introduction to the concepts of prosopagnosia, super-recognizers and the spectrum theory of face recognition ability, which has been challenged to a degree in a recent paper. I also like the little comment about the experience of being a “smart” student in high school. As a parent of gifted kids I know all about that stuff.

Individual differences in face recognition and developmental prosopagnosia



See more at:

Nancy’s Brain Talks



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.