Tag Archives: MIT

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/

Super-recognizer test? Forget it mate!

I’ve noticed that quite consistently searches that lead people to this blog appear to be people searching for a test relevant to being a super-recognizer, which is a person who has an elite level of ability in recognizing faces, a most useful skill in many ways, and a skill that would be relevant to a number of jobs. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who is hoping to gain access to a super-recognizer test, but the fact is that I only know of one test that I know enough about it to say that it could decisively separate super-recognizers from simply good face recognizers, and I have been unsuccessfully been trying to gain access to that test since September of 2010. The test is the Before They Were Famous Test (BTWF), and it was one of the two face recognition tests that were used in the study that was written-up in the science journal paper that launched the concept of the super-recognizer in 2009. I’d love to get to do the BTWF Test, even though there would most likely be subtle cultural differences that might impair my performance on that test. I believe the BTWF Test is a test that uses the faces of celebrities, and I’m sure it was created outside of Australia, and so I would assume that those celebrities would not include any Australian celebrities, and I am an Australian. Nevertheless, I was keen to have a go at this test. I was so keen that I volunteered as a study subject at a local Australian university’s psychology department to do some face recognition tests. To cut a long story short, I got to do two other tests, but not the BTWF Test, and I’m still many months later waiting to be told of the results of one of those tests. Just to explain my interest in face recognition – in 2010 I got a surprise after finding that I got perfect scores on the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) and also the Famous Faces test, and then I realised that I could well be a super-recognizer. I’ve been messed around so much by Australian and overseas academics that I don’t think I’d trust them enough to do any further participation in research, and I think there is something strange about the way that I’ve been dealt with by researchers in the area of face recognition.

I find it a curious fact that of all of the researchers who I’ve told that I am a synaesthete and am willing to provide test results that show it and I also suspect that I’m a super-recognizer, not one, including the university researcher whom I’ve met first-hand, has asked to see any of my test results regarding face memory or synaesthesia. Anyone with some familiarity with the published literature about synaesthesia would surely figure that super-recognizing could well be another cognitive advantage associated with synaesthesia. Do face recognition researchers lack a basic knowledge of synaesthesia research, another area of the neuropsychology of sensory perception? Surely not. Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of the work that university researchers do. Their job is to do highly structured research studies, with the aim of getting their reports of those studies published in science journals with a good reputation and status. I believe there is considerable pressure to achieve this and do it as often as possible. So perhaps one should not be surprised to find that researchers are only interested in non-academic, non-student people if they can fill the role of being a standardized study subject.

I believe that study subjects like me who do not conform to what appears to be the current scientific view of super-recognizers as “simply the high end of a broad distribution of face recognition ability” (Russell, Duchaine & Nakayama 2009), people like me who are synaesthetes and who score very high in tests of face recognition, are a threat to the current academic status quo, in which the conventional view is that atypical or abnormal brain structure or brain function is associated with deficits in face recognition, and good face recognition ability is taken to be a marker for normality and health and all things nice. A great many studies of face recognition have been inspired by the idea that poor ability to recognize faces and facial expressions are fundamental features of autism. Autism research is supposed to be very well-funded. Studies of face recognition that are promoted as research into the causes of autism would, I guess, attract funding. While not all autistic people are synaesthetes and not all synaesthetes are autistic, there does appear to be some type of link between autism and synaesthesia, so the idea that synaesthetes should be poor at face recognition would be consistent with the above theoretical framework. In fact, the idea that there might be a link between synaesthesia and prosopagnosia appears to be quite a common belief among academics and interested ordinary people. This is based on anecdotes and some very speculative early writing about synaesthesia. So finding a synaesthete super-recognizer who is also very good at identifying facial expressions could upset this apple cart. In any case, those nice red shiny apples seem to be destined for a bruising because of ideas that are being explored by some synaesthesia researchers who are contrasting rather than linking synaesthesia with poor face recognition and other agnosias (Mitchell 2011) or are finding connections between various types of synaesthesia and various types of enhanced perception (Banissy, Garrido et al 2011; Banissy, Walsh & Ward 2009).

The other test of face recognition that was used in the study described in Russell, Duchaine and Nakayama’s 2009 paper about super-recognizers was the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), which comes in a short and a long form. Both the short and long form are used in that study. It appears that the long form of this test was created to measure a wider range of face recognition abilities, but as can easily be seen in the paper, the long form was quite a failure in this respect. Non-super-recognizers did not fall a long way behind super-recognizers in the CFMT Long Form that much more than they did in the CFMT Short Form. Basically, super-recognizers got perfect of near-perfect scores in the 72 question CFMT Short Form, which is freely available to do over the internet, but a couple of other study subjects also got close to perfect scores in the CFMT.

So, the only thing that I can recommend to anyone who wants to know if they are a super-recognizer is to have a crack at the CFMT, read about the experiences of super-recognizers, and you might also wish to consider whether you have synaesthesia or have any brain-based special abilities or talents such as perfect pitch or high IQ. The Synesthesia Battery is a test for a number of colour-related types of synaesthesia. And remember, the whole concept of the “super-recognizer” is a thing that some academics only recently came up with. I believe the official view of super-recognizers is that they (we?) are only the extreme end of a bell curve representing natural variation in one area of ability. I personally believe that super-recognizers are probably qualitatively different from others rather than merely being quantitatively different – I believe super-recognizer ability could be an effect of synaesthesia or local hyperconnectivity, but I still wouldn’t like to say at what cut-off point in test scores super-recognizers can be identified.

P.S. December 2011

It appears that the CFMT is no longer available from two of the websites that I have linked to, and the only freely available online access to the CFMT is probably through a research study done by researchers at the MIT:  http://facetoface.mit.edu/   If you live in or near London then you might be able to go along to the superrecognizers study currently being conducted at the Science Museum by researchers from the Uni of East London and do some tests as study subjects:  http://www.superrecognizers.com/

I have tried contacting professional psychologists in WA who have private practices to see if any of them can offer access to any face recognition testing. I found a general lack of comprehension, and it appears that they generally haven’t heard of prosopagnosia, let alone super-recognizers. Apparently there is some face memory or face recognition test that is an element of an IQ test and/or vocational aptitude testing. I have not been given any details about this test or tests, and God only knows if it is of any value. There are a number of old face recognition tests, but it appears that the CFMT and the BTWF tests are the only ones that are cheat-proof and currently used by face recognition researchers. I’ve never heard of either of these tests being used as elements of vocational or IQ testing, but who knows?

The idea that superior face recognition ability could be important in employment is an idea that has been proven to be true in the case of police work, a documented example would be the elite squad of super-recognizer police officers in London’s Metropolitan Police force, which was the subject of an interesting article in the UK’s Sunday Times in November 2011. Despite the proven utility of superrecognizers in at least one important job, the idea that this is a valuable work skill appears to be an idea well ahead of our times here in sleepy Western Australia, where our time zone is two years behind the rest of the Anglophone world (except in mining). There is not only the issue that we are behind the times here, there is also the big issue of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias recognized in psychology “in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes”, to quote from Wikipedia. The Dunning-Kruger effect can also negatively affect capable people, in the opposite way “Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.” So incompetent people can have unjustified self-confidence while more capable people can under-estimate their relative superiority as a result of being ignorant or deceived about the actual level of ability of others. I would argue that the Dunning-Kruger effect is very applicable to face recognition ability. I’m sure there are many people with milder developmental prosopagnosia who don’t understand their disability, and I know myself that I never thought of myself as having superior face memory until I tried some online face recognition tests in the pursuit of any clue to the mystery of The Strange Phenomenon. I believe the full extent of the problem goes beyond not understanding one’s self. I believe that only a super-recognizer is able to understand the possibilities and advantages of this very specific type of superior visual processing. I’ve found that many people who I’ve spoken to about super-recognizers doubt that any human could perform better than current face recognition technology, an assumption that appears to be incorrect, and is probably based on ignorance. It should be clear to anyone that good face recognition ability is an essential requirement in policing and has uses in security and detective work, but I doubt that most people would guess that super-recognizing could have medical applications, can be more useful than current face recognition technology and might also have applications in tasks that involve identifying kinship relationships, possibly to do with tracing lost relatives or family history research. To independently realise all of this, a person would have to see what a super-recognizer sees, an experience that is denied to most people. If most people, including most psychologists, have no idea of the possible utility of super-recognizing, why would anyone bother testing for it or identifying it?

If you suspect that you might be a super-recognizer, and wish to have this tested and certified by a professional psychologist or have it verified by participating in university research done by a recognized expert in the field of face recognition, I hope you live in London. Your only other option appears to be taking a look at the MIT study, and taking a screen-shot print-out of any test results. Good luck!

References

Banissy, Michael J., Garrido, Lucia, Kusnir, Flor, Duchaine, Bradley, Walsh, Vincent & Ward, Jamie Superior Facial Expression, But Not Identity Recognition, in Mirror-Touch Synesthesia. Journal of Neuroscience. February 2, 2011, 31(5):1820-1824. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5759-09.2011 http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/5/1820

Banissy, Michael J., Walsh, Vincent & Ward, Jamie Enhanced sensory perception in synaesthesia. Experimental Brain Research. 2009 Jul;196(4):565-71. Epub 2009 Jun 17. http://www.springerlink.com/content/406581u3507un270/   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19533108

Grimston, Jack Eagle-Eye of the Yard can spot rioters by their ears. Sunday Times, The, 20.11.2011, p12,13-12,13, 1; Language: EN Section: News Edition: 01 EBSCOhost Accession number 7EH53940939 http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/  This interesting article is behind a paywall, so you might try EBSCOHost from your local piblic library.

Mitchell, Kevin J. Curiouser and curiouser: genetic disorders of cortical specialization. Current Opinion in Genetics and Development. 2011 Feb 4. [Epub ahead of print]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21296568?dopt=Abstract

Russell, Richard, Yue, Xiaomin, Nakayama, Ken and Tootell, Roger B. H.  Neural differences between developmental prosopagnosics and super-recognizers.Journal of Vision. August 6, 2010 vol. 10 no. 7 article 582 doi: 10.1167/10.7.582http://www.journalofvision.org/content/10/7/582.short

Russell R, Duchaine B, Nakayama K Super-recognizers: people with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review.2009 Apr;16(2):252-7. http://pbr.psychonomic-journals.org/content/16/2/252.full.pdf

Wikipedia contributors Dunning–Kruger effect. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect&oldid=466983876

Tests

MIT’s Face to Face Online Study http://facetoface.mit.edu/

“Test My Memory” from Faceblind.org – used to offer the CFMT in the past http://www.faceblind.org/facetests/

“Test My Brain” – used to offer the CFMT in the past, could try the 5 minute “Famous Faces” test http://www.testmybrain.org/

BBC Science Face Memory Test – this test no substitute for the CFMT http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/tmt/

The Synesthesia Battery http://www.synesthete.org/

Further reading about my dealings with psychology researchers:

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year   https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/science-week-2011-%E2%80%93-the-world-of-science-and-me-in-the-past-year/

My Brain Put to the Test

In the first post in this blog I have described an interesting thing that I have experienced that is most certainly related to synaesthesia and also face perception. The trouble with my description is that the reality of my experience cannot be verified by any other person, much the same problem that was once incorrectly thought to be a barrier to the scientific investigation of synaesthesia. What we can do is investigate whether there is anything different or even superior about my brain. Many scientific psychological tests are freely available that can be used to this end. Over the years I have done a few tests that are very relevant to the strange phenomenon that I have already described in detail.

A few years ago I found a test that was an appendix at the back of a pop psychology book that I borrowed from a library. That test was the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test and apparently it is a test used by university researchers. Out of curiosity I did the test and got a score of 33 out of a possible score of 36. The notes at the end of the test state “If you scored over 30 you are very accurate at decoding a person’s facial expressions around their eyes.” So I guess I got a good score, but I wasn’t hugely impressed by my effort, as a friend of mine also had a go at that test and she got a better score than mine.

Having an interest in psychology (it was one of the subjects that I studied at university many years ago), I came across something written about coloured letters of the alphabet, and I learned that this experience is a scientifically recognized thing, and that it has a name – synaesthesia. I was intrigued to learn that other people experience numbers and letters as having their own colours which never change. I had thought that it was only my own peculiarity, and I knew that it was a bit strange and I could think of no explanation for it. Having good sense, I had never mentioned it or discussed it with anyone else. It was nice to know that it is a harmless oddity that is really fairly common, but often kept secret. Some years later I found out that there is a group of online tests that one can do to verify if one has various types of colour synaesthesia such as coloured letters, numbers, days of the week and months. This group of tests is the Synesthesia Battery. It also includes some test involving musical notes which I have no clue about. I believe this battery is the work of a team of researchers at an American university, and after doing it, I can see that it is a test that would be hard to cheat. The beauty of this test is that it relies on genuine synaesthetes using their synaesthesia to outperform non-synaesthetes. I had a go at the tests of coloured things, and my scores were thus:

Grapheme Color Picker Test – Score: 0.38

“In this battery, a score below 1.0 is ranked as synesthetic. Non-synesthetes asked to use memory or free association typically score in the range of a 2.0. A perfect score of 0.0 would mean that there was no difference in the colors selected on each successive presentation of the same letter.”

Speed-Congruency Test – Accuracy 90.28%, Mean Reaction Time 1.469 seconds +/- 0.508

“An accuracy percentage of right answers in the range of 85-100 typically indicates synesthetic association between the graphemes and colors. Those below typically rule out synesthesia.”

Weekday Color Picker Test – Score: 0.32

“In this battery, a score below 1.0 is ranked as synesthetic. Non-synesthetes asked to use memory or free association typically score in the range of a 2.0.”

Month Color Picker Test – Score: 0.46

“In this battery, a score below 1.0 is ranked as synesthetic. Non-synesthetes asked to use memory or free association typically score in the range of a 2.0.”

So, there can be no doubt that I am “synesthetic”. The colours in my head are scientifically proven to be real. I didn’t need some scientist to tell me that, but this is confirmation. I have grapheme-colour synaesthesia and some other types of synaesthesia in addition to that.

After experiencing “the strange phenomenon” for many months, and gradually figuring out that there are very specific and narrow conditions that must be met for this phenomenon to happen, and realising that it works like synaesthesia, I realised that it is interestingly different to all of the types of synaesthesia that I have read about, because it involves faces and the recognition of faces. This was interesting enough, but it was another aspect of the situation that really gave me pause for thought. I understood that “the strange phenomenon” seems to be showing me that two people who I had seen are linked, possibly completely unknown to each other, by some kind of shared genetic condition. This is the only explanation that I can think of as to why two unrelated people of different genders have such similar-looking faces, among other similarities. I knew that this was a pretty incredible thing to see or to know, especially if the people involved do not know the full story. These people do not look diseased or strange, and they definitely are not intellectually impaired, so the situation is not obvious. The whole situation is socially bizarre and full of moral questions. I also reflected on the possibility that my interest in faces and similarities between faces is beyond ordinary. Would another person notice a face that looks like their mother’s in a drawing by Mucha? Who knows? Am I different? I was sure there was nothing wrong with my ability to recognize faces, but having an interest in scientific stuff, I knew that there is a condition named prosopagnosia, and that there are tests designed by scientists to diagnose people with this problem, and I thought it would be a good idea to try a test just to be sure that something funny wasn’t going on in my scone. I found my way to http://www.faceblind.org/facetests/ I did the tests that I found there:

The Famous Faces Test – Score: 30 correct out of a possible score of 30 (100%)

“On our previous version of this test, the average person with normal face recognition was able to recognize about 85% of the faces they were familiar with.”

Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) – Score 72 correct out of a possible score of 72 (100%)

“On our previous version of this test, the average person with normal face recognition was able to recognize about 80% of the faces.”

I accidentally did this same test, with the same faces, a second time when I had a go at a battery of tests and a questionnaire at another site on the internet that included the CFMT. Again I got a perfect score of 72 out of 72. I guess this result shouldn’t be taken too seriously, because me having previous practice could have boosted my score, but one might also argue that this score indicated that my first perfect score wasn’t just an accident of chance. These perfect scores were all quite a shock, and I was left curious about what my real level of ability is in this area, because there is always the possibility that tests such as these are too easy to measure the upper extreme of ability. It appeared that I had hit a ceiling.

I’m not sure when it was that I came across the concept of the super-recognizer. Super-recognizers are people at the upper extreme of level of ability in recognizing faces. A Google search easily finds the science journal paper that introduced the concept of the super-recognizer. The authors are university researchers Russell, Duchaine and Nakayama. I read the paper with interest, and I thought some of the unique experiences reported by super-recognizers were similar to my experiences. Super-recognizers are able to recognize casual acquaintances who haven’t been seen for many years. I thought this type of ability was similar to my being able to remember Jean’s face, a person who was nobody to me many years ago, and knowing my test scores, I knew there was a possibility that I belong in this group. The researchers found that the super-recognizers did better than the controls in two face recognition tests, including one that I had already done, the 72 question version of the Cambridge Face Memory Test, and like me 3 of the 4 super-recognizers got perfect scores in this test, while none of the controls did. I had actually scored better than one of the super-recognizers in this test, who got one question wrong. But this test alone didn’t appear to be enough to decisively sort the super-recognizers from the normal people. The other test discussed in the journal paper was the Before They Were Famous Test, and it looked as though it was difficult. I would need to do this test of face recognition ability or another just as difficult, and do well, in order to really confirm that I am a super-recognizer.

The idea of me as a super-recognizer was most interesting for a variety of reasons: it would be an element of solving the puzzle of “the strange phenomenon”, it is an ability that could be marketable or useful in many ways, and I was the only case that I knew of linking synaesthesia with unusually good ability in face recognition. I had already heard of synaesthetes who have trouble recognizing faces, but not the opposite, although the science explaining grapheme-colour synaesthesia seems to suggest that high ability is likely, considering that this type of synaesthesia is caused by extra connectivity and involves the fusiform gyrus which also plays a central role in face processing. So I was pretty keen to have a go at the Before They Were Famous Test or something similar, but unlike the other tests, it did not appear to be easily accessible through the internet. I was forced to approach researchers for help. At this point my story slowed down considerably. I have given a detailed account of my dealings with university researchers from all around the world, including doing face recognition tests in person at an Australian university, in my 2011 post titled “Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year” (see link below).

Just out of curiousity I’ve recently had a go at the “Face to Face online study” from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which is actually the CFMT and a similar test of recognizing motor cars (which are possibly not real models). I got a score of 71 out of 72 (99%) for the CFMT (average score given as 75%), and in the car recognition test I got 62 out of 72 (86%) which can’t be judged as the test is still being developed and the researchers don’t have enough data to give an average score. My score on the CFMT this time should be considered in light of the fact that the faces in the test presented by the MIT are the same faces that I’ve already seen when I took this same test at at Faceblind.org, so I should have had some advantage at that test. Out of curiousity again I did a face memory test that I found at the website of the BBC. I got a perfect score for face recognition, a score of 91% for temporal memory associated with face memory (average score 68%) and a low number of false-positive identifications.

So, up to this point I know these things: I am “very accurate at decoding a person’s facial expressions around their eyes.”, I most definitely have “synesthetic association between the graphemes and colors” and I have high ability in recognizing faces that is consistent with being a super-recognizer.

I have kept records of my results in all of the tests mentioned, including printouts of screen-shots of my scores in the online tests. My test results from The Synesthesia Battery are also kept stored in computerized form, and with my consent can be shared with other researchers anywhere in the world through email. I am happy to share this information with qualified university-based researchers or established science journalists who might be interested. To date no researcher from any part of the world has online or in person asked to see any of the test results that I have mentioned in this article.

Further reading:

Science Week 2011 – The world of science and me in the past year.

https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/science-week-2011-%e2%80%93-the-world-of-science-and-me-in-the-past-year/

 Links to Tests Mentioned

The Synesthesia Battery

http://www.synesthete.org/

“Eyes Test (Adult)”

http://www.autismresearchcentre.com/tests/eyes_test_adult.asp

“Reading the mind in the eyes”

http://glennrowe.net/BaronCohen/Faces/EyesTest.aspx

Vision, Memory, and Face Recognition Online

http://www.faceblind.org/facetests/index.php

Massachusetts Institute of Technology “MIT’s Face to Face online study” “Investigating face memory in people with and without autism” “Principle Investigator: Nancy Kanwisher, Ph.D.”

http://facetoface.mit.edu/

BBC Science Face Memory Test  http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/tmt/