Tag Archives: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

http://nancysbraintalks.mit.edu/video/individual-differences-face-recognition-and-developmental-prosopagnosia

https://youtu.be/_L5ESU9oNh4

See more at:

Nancy’s Brain Talks

http://nancysbraintalks.mit.edu/video/individual-differences-face-recognition-and-developmental-prosopagnosia#sthash.nqN5I24Q.dpuf

 

Pareidolia at Sculptures by the Sea – our child clearly has an excellent left fusiform gyrus

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

Shipwreck by Steve Croquett at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2012

I took our youngest with me when I visited this year’s Sculptures by the Sea at what is known to some locals as Cottesloe Main Beach. We had a wonderful time, and her favourite scuplture was the lounge room made of sandbags on the sea shore (Comfort Zone by Alessandra Rossi), but I think our child really got more fun out of playing with other kids with the sculpture Xing by Graeme Pattison. I would love to see some local government pruchase this sculpture for installation at a playground. As soon as she saw the Shipwreck sculpture by Steve Croquett our child identified it as two faces, not a shipwreck. This instant interpretation no surprise to me. Even as a baby our child has had an uncanny ability to detect visual patterns which are not apparent to others. I once noticed our child as a baby laughing at the calendar that was hanging in our kitchen. It was a freebie produced by our local council and it had a rather cheap attempt at art in it, in which a photo of faces was superimposed with some other image in a way that made the cheery faces rather hard to pick, but our little girl had noticed them. Our child was also quite gifted at spotting spiders all around the house which no one else noticed, even very small ones, very thin Daddy-long-legs spiders, and spiders way up on the ceiling. Our young one also loves to point out animal shapes in clouds, or in shapes found in natural objects, and I can always see the same thing when my attention is drawn to the shapes by our child. I suspect that our child’s interest and perhaps talent in identifying visual patterns might be genetically related to my unusual ability in face recognition. She has at times expressed observations that appear to be evidence of synaesthesia, which I experience and which runs in our family, but it is hard to know what to make of this as our child is young and some synesthesia researchers believe that all young children experience synaesthesia.

It appears that the term that is used for the ability to spot face-like visual patterns is pareidolia, but the definition of this term found in the Wikipedia isn’t really the same as what our child does. The Wikipedia defines pareidolia as a psychological phenomenon in which random or vague stimulus is perceived as significant. Our child doesn’t percieve the shapes as significant – our child percieves the shapes in non-face objects as resembling faces, but clearly understands that they are just resemblances, and there is no indication that our child thinks there is anything particularly significant about what is seen. The term pareidolia is also too general to define what our child does – our child notices patterns in visual stimuli to an unusual degree, but does not notice patterns in auditory stimuli to any unusual degree, as far as I can tell, but the term pareidolia appears to be not sepcific to any sensory mode. I would like to see a more specific term for identifying patterns in random or vague visual stimuli and an even more specific term for identifying faces in random or vague visual stimuli. I’m surprised that scientists haven’t already created terms for these things.

In January of this year an interesting  fMRI study exploring the relationship between pareidolia and face perception was published in the science journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. One of the authors of the study is from Dartmouth College and another is from MIT, two US universities where world-leading studies on face recognition are done. Two interesting articles about the study were also published in January, one at Wired magazine and the other at MIT News. To summarize the findings, the pattern of activations found in the left and the right fusiform gryri were interpreted as evidence that the left fusiform gyrus does the job of noticing face-like patterns in images, while the right fusiform gyrus also performed face processing, but did not duplicate the task done by the left, but instead performed the job of deciding whether or not a face-like image is in fact a real face. It is thought that these brain areas work together to interpret images. So it appears that the department of pareidolia in the brain is the left fusiform gyrus, while judgements about what is a real face are performed in a separate but similar and linked part of the brain. I think this arrangement will make sense to anyone who understands the processes that give rise to creativity and reflective thought. Different modes of thinking by different parts of the brain, in a series of stages, make up the process of intellectual creation. Turn-taking and specialization are features of this type of process, and it is no surprise to me that a most important part of the brain, the fusiform gyrus, also works in this way.

Sculptures by the Sea  http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/Home.aspx

Wikipedia. Pareidolia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

Brown, Mark How does your brain know when a face is really a face? Wired.co.uk January 10th 2012.  http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/10/face-perception

Trafton, Anne How does our brain know what is a face and what’s not? MIT News. January 9th 2012.  http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/face-perception-0109.html

Ming Meng, Tharian Cherian, Gaurav Singal, Pawan Sinha Lateralization of face processing in the human brain. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Published online before print January 4, 2012. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1784.   http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/01/03/rspb.2011.1784.abstract

Woo Hoo! A test specifically for super-recognizers from CBS 60 Minutes

Are you a “super-recognizer”? Take a test. 60 Minutes. CBS News. March 18, 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7402555n&tag=segementExtraScroller;housing

158 interesting comments here:  http://www.cbsnews.com/8601-504803_162-57399111.html?assetTypeId=41&blogId=10391709&tag=postComments;commentWrapper

I think the test presented in this video is an excerpt from the Before They Were Famous Test, a test which I’ve been trying to gain access to since September 2010. The full test has 56 photos of famous people, with super-recognizers typically correctly identifying less than 32 of those, so it is certainly a test to sort out people at the highest end of the spectrum of ability. There are a total of 17 photos of famous British or American people presented in this video. Out of the 17 I was totally unfamiliar with 6 of the famous people (I’ve lived in Australia all my life and have limited interest in recent and obscure US celebrities). I never knew them from a bar of soap. Of the 11 celebrities whom I am familiar with, I identified 5 of them correctly while doing the test at the same pace as the video playing, missing 6 of the famous faces that I do know. I think I could have picked the face of Nancy Reagan if her face had been shown in a close-up, not a long-shot, a few seconds before the video revealed her identity. As soon as someone tells you who a known person is in a photo it is usually impossible not to see who they are, so I didn’t count Nancy Reagan as a hit. Her face is very distinctive, even as a young girl. I don’t think I can conclude anything much about me from my score, because as an Aussie I don’t think my score can be compared with American people taking the test, but it was a bit of fun.

The video features Jennifer Jarett tackling the test in fine form. I’m pretty sure that she was one of the first a super-recognisers to be identified by science, in a journal paper published in 2009. She has also been the subject of a 2009 article in the New York Times.

If you think you might be a super-recognizer and you also wish to do testing to see if this is true, I believe you would need to do both the full Before They Were Famous Test (with the caution that cultural differences might affect your score) and also the clinically credible Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), prefereably the long form, which was created by researchers from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and University College in London. The short form of the CFMT was once freely available to do at a number of places on the internet, but now I believe this autism study at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is the only place where you might access it for free: http://facetoface.mit.edu/