Tag Archives: Intelligence

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





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.

Damn, it’s behind a paywall

I was wondering whether this interesting-sounding paper might mention face memory ability, because other research has shown that ability in this area peaks much later than many other cognitive abilities, in the third decade of life, as I recall, and no one knows why, and it is one of those fascinating mysteries in psychological science that I love to ponder. It is certainly nice to know that there is even one cognitive ability that peaks as late as the seventh decade of life, considering how long it has been since I saw my 30th birthday. I also noticed that one of the authors of the paper (Laura Germine) is one who has done face memory research in the past, and some of the data used in the study was gathered using a website that has a history of offering free to the internet public access to world-class face memory and face perception tests (testmybrain.org). But the paper is behind a paywall, so I’m left wondering.