Tag Archives: Photographic Memory

Australian super-recognizer suffers from social embarrassment after misidentifying stranger as an acquaintance

The amazing thing is that I had earlier seen the acquaitance at the same event, and I hadn’t noticed a difference in hair colour (different hue, same degree of darkness) between the two, possibly because I focus on faces and voices more than hair.

How did this error happen? Well, the stranger was a sibling of the acquaintance, of the same gender, build, age and hairstyle as the acquaintance, and both were attending the same event, and both have quite distinctive faces with a strong family resemblance in the entire face, not just in a couple of features. The family resemblance brings the siblings’ faces closer in similarity of appearance, while the shared distinctiveness of their faces pushes them away from resembling the faces of any randomly-chosen face of an unrelated person of the same race, age and gender. I would even argue that my misidentification was in fact a correct identification of pretty much the same face that happens to be shared by two people rather than the one individual, as is normally the case with faces, rather like the situation in which you meet by chance the twin of a person you know when you weren’t aware that the person you know has a twin. No, the siblings both now known to me are not twins. Yes, other people have made the same mistake in identification.

Is there anything to be learned from this mistake? I guess it shows that at least in my case, super-recognition is not about having a photographic memory or a memory for every single visual detail, but is more to do with detecting similarity, not just in one or a few visible features, but in an entire pattern made up of features, which as a whole can be distinctive, memorable and identifiable. Is super-recognition a superiority in memory for visual patterns?

A super-recognizer moment

I’ve been looking at stuff from the WA Museum and Lost Perth on Facebook, and there was a photo of the Perth fashion designer Aurelio Costarella taken with a department store Santa Claus when Mr Costarella was seven years old. The instant I saw the photo I recognized the santa (or the Father Christmas as we would have said back then) as the same one who was in a old Santa’s knee shot taken of me when I was around ten years old. I always thought of this santa as looking a bit too much like the character Zachary Smith in the 1960s TV show Lost in Space. I think that is what we might call a super-recognizer moment. Lost Perth also featured a photo of the old Bairds department store which was in the Perth CBD. I can still remember the interior of that store like I was there yesterday, and I think that might be related to the fact that it is one of the many memories of scenes that I experience as synaesthesia concurrents evoked by thinking about specific concepts. There’s nothing like an old photo, and a sometimes-photographic memory, to bring the past alive.

https://www.facebook.com/wamuseum

https://www.facebook.com/LostPerth

Synaesthetes have enhanced memory for images of everyday scenes

according to this:
Jamie Ward Enhanced Memory in Synaesthesia: What’s the story so far? American Synesthesia Association, Upcoming Conference Abstracts, June 1, 2013. http://www.synesthesia.info/upcoming.html

This is interesting to me because I am a synaesthete who has many different types of synaesthesia including types in which images of scenes are either inducers or concurrents, and there is much evidence that the visual processing of faces and scenes are done in the same or adjacent parts of the brain, and I’m also a super-recognizer, meaning that I consistently get perfect scores in tests of face memory. So it makes sense that synaesthetes in general should be pretty smart at remembering images of scenes, in fact you could say that the content of this blog has predicted this finding.

British former police detective and writer also a super-recognizer?

“I’ve been told I have a photographic memory. I’m not sure that such a condition exists, but it is true that I never needed to refer to my notebook in court, made interviews a nightmare for suspects and could not forget a face, crime or clue. Badge numbers, car registrations, court cases, names and faces are all stored neatly on my mind’s infinite box of index cards and I usually have little trouble recovering them when needed.”

This passage on page 12 brings to mind the famous memory genius discovered by the Russian neuro-psychologist Alexander Luria, the synaesthete newspaper reporter whose memory gift was discovered by his boss after he explained why he never needed to take notes in a notebook. Luria gave him the name of S in the book that he wrote about the case; Mind of a Mnemonist. A couple of questions also come to mind on reading the above passage. Is it true? Who can tell? The author of the passage, which is an excerpt from the beginning of the book The Crime Factory, goes by the anonymous pen-name of Officer A, so checking the truth or probability of these quite extraordinary claims would have to be difficult. Another question – if Officer A’s memory really is as amazing as claimed, did it get that way by a natural gift or by training or a combination of both? One final question – is Officer A a synaesthete like the amazing S? I’ll have to continue reading to see whether any of my questions are answered. One thing that I can say about the book is that the bit about treating a case of severe bleeding in the leg utterly contradicts what I was taught in St John Ambulance first aid classes, so I think there is at least some dodgy information in the book.

I’ve found more interesting stuff on page 53. in which the author explains the pros and cons of having a “photographic memory”, and it it clear that it can cause a condition that is perhaps related to post-traumatic stress disorder in which ordinary visual stimuli can “trigger” the involuntary retrieval of visual memories of unpleasant scenes experienced in his work as a police officer. An example given is the sight of a stainless steel draining board triggering a visual memory of a dead baby after a post-mortem examination. I think I’ve written on the subject of PTSD before when reviewing the book The Shaking Woman by synesthete novelist Siri Hustvedt, and I recall that I speculated that PTSD might be connected to PTSD. After reading this book I’m all the more convinced, because the involuntary recall of traumatic visual memories described by the policeman seems to operate in the same way as synaesthesia, and is in many ways similar to my many experiences of having non-traumatic visual memories of scenes or faces evoked by visual or other cognitive triggers, which I have argued are a less-known types of synaesthesia. I’m not the least surprised that an extraordinary visual memory can have great advantages and disadvantages.

Don’t let me mislead you into thinking this is a book about neuro-psychology. It is basically an action-packed autobiography of a British detective who has worked in England and also in Perth, Western Australia. Western Australian readers will no doubt be shocked by the ugly picture that the anonymous author has painted of the police in Perth.

Amazon UK page for the book  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crime-Factory-Shocking-Front-Line-Detective/dp/1780575254

Sunday Times (WA) article by Anthony DeCeglie about the book and accusations made in it about WA police  http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/cop-spills-all-on-wa-police/story-e6frg13u-1226532858410

Cached text-only version of quite shocking April 2012 article from People magazine by Douglas Wight that is based on the book’s introduction  http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.people.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/2012/04/15/the-filth-explosive-revelations-of-police-officers-crimes-hushed-up-to-save-embarrassment-102039-23825713/&hl=en&tbo=d&strip=1