Tag Archives: Object Recognition

Teenage super single case study published last year

This study raises questions in my mind about the development of super-recognition. Here’s a case in an adolescent who is nowhere near completing the stages of development of her brain (but does this ever really end?), but she is irrefutably displaying the cognitive talent and characteristics of super-recognizers. How does this information sit with evidence that face recognition is an ability that continues to develop much later than most other cognitive abilities, into the 30s? Will she go on to develop into a super-duper-recognizer as an adult? Has she already reached the peak of her ability and will stay at this level in adulthood? Is the normal trajectory of face memory ability irrelevant to super-recognition?

Rachel J. Bennetts, Joseph Mole & Sarah Bate Super-recognition in development: A case study of an adolescent with extraordinary face recognition skills. Cognitive Neuropsychology. 2017 Sep;34(6):357-376. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2017.1402755. Epub 2017 Nov 22.



Interesting letter from last year re acquired prosopagnosia and the uncanny valley

Editor’s pick: Excluded from the uncanny valley
From Bob Cockshott

New Scientist. Issue 3100. November 19th 2016. p.60.


The experience described in the letter seems to suggest that there is more to face recognition than simple memory or faces, or could it be that there are aspects of the perception of faces in particular that make them especially memorable? Faces are easy to personify because they are usually found on people. Perhaps it is the ability to detect the person behind the face that has become amiss in the letter’s author following his stroke, and maybe this ability feeds into face memory? Such a relationship would explain the author’s inability to notice the uncanny valley, and it would also explain why a personifying synaesthete like myself is also a super-recognizer.



I’ve had a read of the interesting article by Laura Spinney that this letter was a comment about, and I think the Perceptual Mismatch Theory of the Uncanny Valley Effect probably offers a more plausible explanation of my a prosopagnosic might be unable to detect the uncanny valley than the competing Category Uncertainty Theory. The article explained the two theories and evidence supporting them. To summarise, the CUT explains the UVE as the result of confusion about what type of thing one is looking at (for example robot or human?), while the PMT explains the UVE as resulting from unease or perceptual confusion when different features or parts of the thing or being viewed have dissimilar levels of human-like appearance (for example the face and skin look realistic but the eyes do not move like human eyes). I think the case of a prosopagnosic not detecting the UVE when people with normal face perception do is support for the PMT theory rather than the other because as far as I know, prosopagnosia does not involve inability to classify faces or bodies as human or non-human, while I believe there is evidence supporting the idea that prosopagnosia can be the result of not being able to perceptually integrate the features of the face as a whole that is recognizable as a unique or distinctive mix of many attributes and features. A non-prosopagnosic person should be able to perceive a face or body as a whole made up of parts, and notice if one or more elements has a level of humanity that does not match other parts, as in the PMT, while a prosopagnosic might not. Of course, research is needed to investigate my armchair speculations.

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.

Radio show about Glenda Parkin living with dementia in suburb of Perth, Western Australia

Below are the details of a recent and very interesting radio interview on Perth public radio with Glenda and Bronte Parkin and Alzheimers WA CEO Rhonda Parker, focusing on Glenda’s experiences as a person who has a form of dementia that goes by a number of names including Benson’s syndrome, posterior cortical atrophy and PCA. This is not the first time that Glenda has shared her story with the media; she previously shared her story with Perth’s daily newspaper, the West Australian, in 2011 and she has recently been interviewed for the Community Newspaper Group.

I have unusual reasons to be grateful that Glenda has shared her story with the mass media. I happened upon her story in a copy of the West while I was enjoying coffee and one of those wonderfully greasy Sausage and Egg McMuffins in a McDonald’s restaurant in 2011, after dropping someone off to a selective school that offers students places based on high ability in the area of literacy and languages. I became intrigued by the fact that the particular type of dementia described in the article appeared to be a mirror-image of the pattern of intellectual gifts that appear to run in our family, associated with synaesthesia, a harmless, genetic, developmental and memory-enhancing condition that is caused by increased connectivity in the structure of the white matter of the brain. I wondered whether there could be an undiscovered developmental basis of Benson’s syndrome that works like the opposite of synesthesia, or could it be caused by some mature-age dysregulation of some chemical that regulates growth in the parts of the brain that seem to be hyper-developed in our family, and attacked, over-pruned or somehow damaged in Benson’s. I wrote about my ideas in this blog soon after. In 2012 my thinking on this theme took an important and exciting leap ahead when I happened across a brief article in New Scientist about research by Dr Beth Stevens on microglia, complement, synaptic pruning and elements of the immune system playing a central role in the development of the brain. I figured that one or maybe more of the complement chemicals could be the chemical that regulates growth or pruning in the parts of the brain that I had written about and attempted to identify in my 2011 blog post. I wrote a brief outline of these ideas at this blog in 2012 in an article that was archived by the Internet Archive Wayback Machine in 2012. In lat 2013 I got a big surprise when I saw my idea linking the immune system with synaesthesia as the main idea of a research paper published in a peer-reviewed neuroscience journal, and all without my permission! That’s another story….

I am sure that many people listening to this radio interview would be fascinated with or even skeptical of Glenda’s account of being able to see but not perceive letters on the cover of a book. Her eyesight is not the problem, the problem lies in the visual processing areas of her brain and because of this a lady who in her impressive career has been an author of books can no longer read text or interpret symbols. Seeing is as much done in the brain as it is done in the eye and optic nerves, and a person who has no apparent problem with their eyes can lose visual perception as the result of dementia or injury or stroke.

“Simple things can be very frustrating” – Glenda and Bronte Parkin on dementia. Mornings with Geoff Hutchison. 720 ABC Perth.

Jarvis, Lucy Still making a contribution: retired educators share experience of living with dementia. Community Newspapers. 2015

Hiatt, Bethany Penrhos principal’s hardest battle.  West Australian. January 3, 2011. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/mp/8588194/glenda-parkin/

Postscript March 10th 2015

The West Weekend liftout of the West Australian of February 14-15 2015 has a feature story about West Australians livng with dementia on pages 10-13. he story of Glenda and Bronte Parkin is included in that article and the content makes it clear that although Glenda Parkin has a diagnosis of Benson’s syndrome which has had a negative impact on her ability to recognize symbols, writing and objects, she can still somehow navigate her way in her neighbourhood. I find this interesting as some people who have prosopagnosia, which is an impairment in face memory, also have a similar impairment in visual memory of scenes or landscapes, and thus have serious problems with navigating their way through streets and neighbourhoods. I had thought that Benson’s syndrome, a type of dementia, and prosopagnosia, a developmental disability and also sometimes acquired from brain injury, must be in many ways similar in their manifestations, as they both feature disability in face recognition, but it appears that it is not safe to make assumptions and maybe each case of these two conditions should be considered unique. I do not recall reading about Glenda Parkin’s ability to recognize faces, so maybe I should assume it is still normal, along with her ability to recognize street-scapes and scenes.

Yeoman, William Open minds. West Weekend. p. 10-13 West Australian. February 14-15 2015.


A test of object recognition

The Cambridge Car Memory Test is a test of object recognition, which is apparently independent of face memory, but modestly correlated. This test can be used to diagnose impairment or agnosia in object recognition, and it was modeled on the successful Cambridge Face Memory Test. What is behind the sex differences found by these researchers?

The Cambridge Car Memory Test: A task matched in format to the Cambridge Face Memory Test, with norms, reliability, sex differences, dissociations from face memory, and expertise effects

Hugh W. Dennett, Elinor McKone, Raka Tavashmi, Ashleigh Hall,  Madeleine Pidcock, Mark Edwards, Bradley Duchaine

Behavior Research Methods. June 2012, Volume 44, Issue 2, pp 587-605.




Super-recognizer jobs, or why you should be testing prospective employees for visual memory

[This post last updated June 2018]

While I’m sure there are very few jobs in which being a superrecognizer alone is sufficient qualification, it is also clear that good or elite face memory/recognition ability is a very important work skill in many roles. A normal level of face recognition ability is probably required for most jobs, unless particular measures are taken to accommodate employees who can’t recognize faces, such as name badges etc. I’m surprised that police forces generally don’t test for face recognition ability in their recruitment screening tests or their training regimes, and I think my dismay might be shared by face recognition and prosopagnosia researchers. Criminals generally don’t wear name badges, and they aren’t very accommodating people. It is probably true that many or most prosopagnosics use alternative methods to memorize, identify or recognize people, such as face-matching strategies in certain situations or memorizing gaits, hairstyles or voices of people. Even if face-blind people are able to use some effective methods to identify others, we can’t escape from the fact that face recognition is widely used as a means of identifying individuals and there is a general assumption that everyone can do it, so it is important for police forces and other organizations to know whether they have members who can’t memorize and identify faces.

Superior face memory ability must surely be a valuable tool for those working in policing, law enforcement, security and intelligence roles. If we make the assumption that excellent face recognition ability is linked with superiority in visually identifying various other types of items within specified classes, such as identifying different makes of cars, or planes or different species of birds or plant varieties, etc, (and I believe there is some scientific evidence to support this assumption), then the super-recognizer possibly has a real advantage in a very diverse range of occupations. When I was watching the TV series Secrets of the Super-brands which was broadcast a few months ago in Australia, I recall seeing a scientist, (I’ve forgotten her name), saying that when people look at the logos and labels of well-known consumer products, the parts of the brain that activate are also some of the parts of the brain that do face recognition, so I think we can also assume that superrecognition probably gives an advantage in visually identifying consumer products, which could be useful in retailing and nightfill work (and if you think this sounds like an easy task in visual discrimination, go look at the range of near-identical products in the light globe or dishwasher detergent sections of a large supermarket). A super-recognizer with generally superior ability in visual recognition might have an advantage in areas of medicine in which visual recognition is a core task, and that would be a number of areas of medicine. Visual face, object and pattern recognition and memory are applicable to a huge range of occupations. Here are some ideas:

Working for a specialist contractor – I only know of one organisation that seems to fit into this category, Super Recognisers International. This organisation appears to operate in the UK.

Police work – Specialist super-recognizers are currently working in law enforcement in the UK, but apparently not in Australia or anywhere else in the world. The necessity of excellent face recognition in police work is obvious. Countless press articles can be found through the internet about the use of an elite super-recognizer team by the Metropolitan Police in London, including the live surveillence of huge crowds at the 2013 Notting Hill Carnival and huge numbers of identifications and convictions from identification of images of offenders in CCTV image recordings from the 2011 England riots.

Police Misconduct Investigator – one of the most famous super-recognizers works in this niche occupation (see this article)

CCTV image interpretation – An obvious application for super-recognition, but I do not know of any use of super-recognizers in this area of work besides a UK police force.

Detective work – Duh! The necessity of excellent face recognition is obvious.

Border protestion, customs, passport officers, TSA agents – see below and also see suggestions made by super-recognizer researcher Brad Duchaine in an August 2013 article in Science News.

Security work – The necessity of excellent face recognition is obvious. In The Psychologist in October 2013 three super-recognition researchers explained how super-recognizers can out-perform facial recognition technology in difficult conditions, and they identified passport officers, and surveillence and security roles as possible applications for super-recognizer ability.

Intelligence agencies (spooks, ASIO) – The necessity of excellent face recognition in this line of work is obvious, but when I asked a recruitment officer representing ASIO at a graduate career fair in 2018 whether ASIO are interested in recruiting super-recognizers, she appeared to have no idea what a super is, or why we’d be useful.

Consultant – If you can’t find a super-recognizer from within your business or organization, hire one for tasks that require this elite natural ability.

Paparazzi (photographers who take unauthorized photos of celebrities in their everyday life to supply photos to the print media)  and photojournalism – Exceptional face recognition ability would probably be an essential requirement for this job, because I guess these people need to be able to identify celebrities cold in out-of-context and private situations, as in this photo-opportunity. Celebrities often use face-covering strategies to avoid the paparazzi, such as wearing sunglasses and hats or none of their typical make-up, sometimes even disguises and fake facial hair.

Journalism / photojournalism– I guess that the journalist’s requirement for exceptional face memory would be similar to that of the paparazzi. Journalists need to identify, investigate and meet people and not get people off-side by failing to recognize them.

Management and supervisory roles – The necessity of at least good face recognition is obvious.

Electoral Officer – I’m guessing excellent face recognition ability might help identify anyone trying to vote more than once in the same place. I have no idea how often this happens in our time or whether there are easier ways to rig a ballot. I do know that a coercive form of this type of electoral fraud was a common enough in the USA in the 19th century to be given a name (cooping).

Exam Supervisor or Exam Invigilator – at universities or wherever important written examinations are conducted. These days important exams can require candidates to present identification cards or passes with a photograph on it, presumably as a measure to prevent or deter people from sitting an exam for someone else fraudulently. Of course, this type of misconduct can only be detected if the exam invigilators carefully and ably check the face of every person who wishes to sit the exam against their ID card photo, a task clearly requiring excellent face recognition or face matching ability, especially considering the fact that universities these days have international student bodies of a mixture of races, and the cross-race effect can make it more difficult to recognize faces of a race that is not one’s own. The idea of checking exam candidates’ photo-ID is very nice idea, but I think rarely put into action.

Teaching and Education? – At least good face recognition skills required for this type of job. Should a school headmaster be able to recognize and know all students in the school on sight? A teacher certainly needs to be able to positively identify all students in their class.

Sales, PR, marketing?

Customer service roles – including library work / librarian, public service, retail and general business roles dealing with public or customers or prospective customers

Debt collectors?

Radiologist – Expert and specialized visual recognition skills are essential to this medical job, but unlike being a super-recognizer, these skills are learned deliberately through a conscious process. With the development of AI tools that can learn this type of skill (visual recognition), there have been opinions expressed that there is no point training more doctors into this medical specialty, but a 2018 article in The Economist suggests that this job, like many others that have survived technological innovation, will be aided but not replaced by technology.

Sonographer – see above

Dermatologist – visually recognizing symptoms of countless different skin diseases requires developed, expert visual recognition ability

Medical Geneticist – recognizing characteristic faces and phenotypes as symptoms of countless rare genetic and inborn syndromes. The Perth Face-Space Project is apparently based on the idea of faces as phenotypes of genetic disorders. In my opinion, this area of skill very much overlaps with the natural ability of the super-recognizer.

Second-hand motor vehicle dealer – knowing vehicle models and detailed product knowledge are probably visual recognition skills related to FR

Botanist – visually recognizing and discriminating between countless different but often near-indistinguishable plant species

Zoologist – as above

Entomologist – as above

Ecologist – as above

Biologist – as above

Natural Environment Rehabilitation – Quickly and accurately visually identifying native plants and animals and also weeds and pest species are essential skills for such a role and I bet a super would have an advantage.

Environmental Conservation – as above

Gardening – Being able to tell weeds from legitimate plants is an essential skill, as is being able to accurately identify and know about a huge range of garden plants, trees and native species, and the primary means of identification is visual. You’d want to know the difference between a gladioli and a Watsonia weed, or the subtle difference between the self-seeding South African plant Pelargonium capitatum which is an environmental pest in coastal areas of WA, and the garden cultivar “Attar of Roses” which was derived from this species.

Retailing – Dealing with people and products. Super-recognizer Moira Jones wrote about the value of her elite face recognition in a past role in retail, both for superior customer service and identifying suspects in a police investigation of a robbery.

Night-fill in supermarkets  and retail – Visual memory for product packaging and logos, a generally excellent eye and memory for details and excellent spatial memory are essential

Proof-reading – Does superior face memory correlate with superior memory for the appearance of correctly-spelled words? I believe it does in some supers.

Chicken sexing – An elite and trained level of visual recognition is the core requirement of this job, which unfortunately is now mostly obsolete due to genetic engineering of obvious sexual dimorphism into chicken breeds

Gem sorting, diamond sorting – I don’t know much at all about this job, but I imagine that like chicken sexing it might be a highly specialized job requiring trained visual perception, and could either be well-paid or redundant due to automation.

Prospecting – A very sharp eye is obviously a core requirement. Prospecting is a lifestyle more than a job, and what a lifestyle! An interesting assortment of people do this for a living or for a supplementary income and pastime, and some of them are living in remote locations to hide from people who are searching for them. I have tried my hand at the sieve and slurry method of prospecting for gemstones, and I think I was pretty good at it right from the start. This method or something like it is also used to find alluvial gold.

My warmest best wishes to all of my readers who are currently looking for work (or sapphires or gold nuggets).

References and further reading and viewing

AI, radiology and the future of work. Economist. June 7th 2018.


This is a link to a YouTube video of the episode of the always-entertaining TV quiz/trivia show QI in which poultry sexing as a job and highly specialized skill was discussed, toward the end of the episode: http://youtu.be/_LsYdsYprfY

McFarland, Sam Digest: We meet people who have or research ‘super’ abilities. Psychologist. Volume 26 Part 10 October 2013. p.716-717 http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=26&editionID=231&ArticleID=2345

(Interesting brief piece of autobiographical writing by super-recognizer Moira Jones about her ability and how it has been useful in her past work in retail. Also comments by researcher Dr Ashok Jansari summarizing the span of his research on supers which includes recruiting Jones as a study subject. Also in the same issue a substantial article about super-recognizers. )

Davis, J.P., Lander, K., and Jansari, A. I never forget a face. Psychologist. October 2013. 26(10), 726-729. http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm/volumeID_26-editionID_231-ArticleID_2347-getfile_getPDF/thepsychologist/1013davi.pdf  http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm?volumeID=26&editionID=231&ArticleID=2347

(Essential reading on the subject of super-recognizers. Covers the history of the concept of the super-recognizer, use of supers in UK police and summarizes studies of supers including the original 2009 study and studies by Davis and by Jansari which have yet to be published as journal papers. Lots of interesting info from unpublished and published studies, speculation about what causes super-recognition, the prevalence of super-recognition and whether the ability is generalised to higher ability in other types of visual identification, and discussion of the definition of super-recognition and potential for effective and deliberate use of supers in working roles. This article/paper is in an edition of this professional journal titled “The age of the superhuman” which has other material in it about superrecognition and memory superiority.)

Bremer, Bruce Some London police are “super-recognizers”. Law Enforcement Today. October 5th 2013. http://lawenforcementtoday.com/2013/10/05/some-london-police-are-%E2%80%9Csuper-recognizers%E2%80%9D/

(A brief article from a US police publication confirming that the use of supers by the police force in London is currently unique in the world. Also see the detailed clarifying comment by Mick Neville.)

Gaidos, Susan Familiar faces. Science News.  Web edition August 23rd 2013, Print edition September 7th 2013. Volume 184 Number 5 p.16. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/352687/description/Familiar_faces

(Science News is the “Magazine of the Society for Science & the Public”. A substantial article. Julian Lim, Carrie Shanafelt and Ajay Jansari (brother of super-recognizer researcher Dr Ashok Jansari) identified as super-recognizers. Researchers interviewed include Bradley Duchaine, Ashok Jansari, Irving Biederman, Nancy Kanwisher, Josh P. Davis and Joe DeGutis. Interesting info about possible directions of future research.)

Dr Marlene Behrmann explains prosopagnosia

I’ve come across a YouTube video in which Dr Marlene Behrmann talks in an interview from last year about prosopagnosia and gives an authoritative explanation of what it is. She seems to have a slight South African accent.

While watching Dr Behrmann discussing the differences between the typical eye movements of prosopagnosics and regular study subjects while looking at faces I wondered whether the typical eye movements of super-recognizer study subjects might be found to be similar or disssimilar to the eye movements of normal people with average face recognition ability.

Peng, Cynthia Marlene Behrmann – prosopagnosia. goCognitive. uploaded Sep 25, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9PGrgPlYw&feature=related

Unsolved Mysteries is my guilty TV watching pleasure, but I read New Scientist with pride

Journalism in the areas of crime, the supernatural and miscellaneous weird stuff are not my usual choices in reading or viewing, at least not in the daytime, but there’s nothing more fascinating than a mystery, except for a clever solution to a mystery. One interesting aspect of this compelling TV show from the United States, which is generally broadcast late at night around the weekend, is that every episode of Unsolved Mysteries involves facial recognition as the solution or an important element of the story’s mystery. Other types of visual recognition can be an important feature in the narratives. One episode of the show recently broadcast in Australia was a murder mystery in which a police officer who had just investigated a murder later attended the home of the victim’s girlfriend who had disappeared. Just by chance the police officer looked into a linen closet and noticed in there pillow-slips with a fabric design which matched the sheet that had been found wrapped around the boyfriend’s body. I’ll bet that’s a variety of visual recognition that the scientists haven’t named yet.

While catching up with reading some back issues of New Scientist magazine today I came across another story about a criminal conviction that resulted from some very sharp soft-furnishing fabric design recognition skills on the part of an American law-enforcement officer. It’s not a nice story, not nice at all, but at least there’s some inspiration to be found in the good people using technology to fight the vile crime of child sexual abuse. An investigator at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children noticed that among the countless horrible images received at the NCMEC two were of girls of a similar age on what looked like the same bedspread of a distinctive appearance. I have no idea how the police trace these things, but the locations where that style of bedspread were sold were identified, and this was the clue that led to the identification of the children and the criminal. Google have developed for the NCMEC software designed to achieve similar feats of visual object recognition as the investigator’s human visual recognition of the bedspread. It is hoped that the automation of the identification of items of interior decoration in images of child abuse will help to solve more crimes. Of course, the NCMEC also works to identify the child victims of crime themselves, in the Child Victim Identification Program. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are partners in the NCMEC’s Technology Coalition, and the application of technology to the task of identification is viewed as the only way to deal with the increasing volume of pornographic material submitted to the NCMEC every year.

Unsolved Mysteries   http://www.unsolved.com/

Peter Aldhous Fighting online child porn. New Scientist. April 9th 2011. p.23-24. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028075.000-automating-the-hunt-for-child-pornographers.html

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (US)  http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PublicHomeServlet?

Would super-recognition be relevant to performance as a radiologist?

Costandi, Mo (2011) Doctors diagnose diseases as if recognising objects. Neurophilosophy. guardian.co.uk December 20th 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/neurophilosophy/2011/dec/20/1

Melo M , Scarpin DJ , Amaro E Jr, Passos RBD , Sato JR , et al. (2011) How Doctors Generate Diagnostic Hypotheses: A Study of Radiological Diagnosis with Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE 6(12): e28752. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028752 http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028752


Press article about “The Met”, superrecognizer police, CCTV and UK rioters now available in PDF – thanks Social Perception Lab

This most interesting article by Jack Grimston from last year is now easily accessible on the internet:

Eagle-Eye of the Yard can spot rioters by their ears
by Jack Grimston
Sunday Times, The, 20.11.2011, p12,13-12,13, 1; Language: EN
Section: News Edition: 01

EBSCOhost Accession number 7EH53940939


It appears that this document has been made available through the Social Perception Lab at the Dept of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire in the United States. This lab has an interesting website, where one can find out about prosopagnosia and face recognition, along with even more obscure subjects such as a car memory test and the first documented case of developmental voice agnosia. The list of researchers working there and past associates includes some of the world’s most prominent researchers in face perception, and it is interesting to see some overlap with synaesthesia researchers. Lots of interesting-looking journal papers and book chapters can be accessed in PDF through their website.

Social Perception Lab http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/index.html

Jack Grimston’s Sunday Times article about the super-recognizers in the Met was published a few months ago, so the info given in it might no longer be completely current, but I think it is still worth writing a brief summary with comments and questions about the piece:

The elite squad of super-recognizer police officers in London’s Metropolitan Police number around 20, out of a police force of 34,000, so super-recognizers are identified at a rate of 1 in 1,700 in this police force. Rare birds or under-recognized?

These super-recognizers have proven to be The Met’s most “effective weapons” at identifying faces in CCTV images of the English Riots of 2011, and computerised face-recognition technology has so far been of limited value.

The superrecognizers are ranked in a league table.

One example of a top performing team member is described. He has identified many faces of offenders in CCTV images as people he has seen from his police duty or from police databases.

This super-recognizer team is led by Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

I can’t find any mention in the article of a date when the super-recognizers team was first established, but it does say that Neville was using super-recognizers long before the riots, with one officer showing a definite talent in 2009. This was the same year in which the first ever scientific paper about super-recognizers was published, launching the concept, and in 2009 there was also a lot of media coverage on the subject. It would be interesting to know whether Neville responded very promptly and innovatively to the work of researchers, or whether the use of super-recognizers in the Met developed independently.

One example of a top performing team member is described, and he has identified many faces of offenders in CCTV images as people he has seen from his police duty or from police databases.

This super-recognizer team is led by Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

He is seeking out more members for the team using testing.

Testing conducted within “The Met” to identify super-recognizers consists of giving an officer hundreds of images of suspects to look at in 45 minutes, then counting how many suspects the officer recognizes. It is not explained how these identifications are verified as true. I can only assume that an identification is judged as correct if it leads to or is verified by a conviction after the case has gone through the court system, but I do wish there was more explanation of the methodology behind the judgements made about who is a super-recognizer and what is a successful identification, especially in light of the fact that this is a police force, not a university or a psychological research institute. I would love to read a research paper about the super-recognizer team written by an academic from a scientific point of view.

All 20-odd members of the super-recogniser squad in “The Met” are male, which is curious because three of the four first-ever super-recognizers to be identified by psychology researchers are female (75% women). This could be the result of a gender bias resulting from the self-selecting method by which the study subject super-recognizers were identified (women are apparently more likely to volunteer as subjects of psychology studies than men). Nevertheless, we know that super-recognition is not an ability limited to males, so one has got to wonder why there are no females in the elite police team, assuming that women are adequately represented in this police force as a whole. Sexism? Lack of self-confidence in female police officers?

The super-recognizers have been studied by Dr Josh Davis from the University of Greenwich and a paper is in the works.

Dr Davis is of the opinion that being a super-recognizer is inborn more than learned, but is open to the idea that it might be possible to enhance the ability with training.

When one of the top performers in the team explained how he identifies faces from the CCTV images, he spoke of a quite conscious and deliberate process involving the consideration of individual features, not limited to facial features, requiring concentration. Although he mentioned his feelings of enthusiasm for the job, he didn’t mention emotion as a part of the recognition process. I think this seems quite different to the way regular people normally recognize faces – effortless and automatic and based on the whole face, with a feeling of familiarity as the marker for recognition. I also think it is quite different to the way that I typically recognize faces in everyday life and also under pressure while doing the timed CFMT, and I know that my face recognition ability is fairly elite, given my perfect score on the CFMT short form.

I’m interested in reading more about super-recognizers and their role in the workplace, and I’ve got my eye out for more news articles and research papers on these subjects.