Tag Archives: Sunday Times (UK)

Super-recognizers, superrecognisers, superrecognition, super-recognisers, superrecognizers, super-recognition, whatever: a collection of studies, reading, viewing and tests

Published and Unpublished Research About Super-recognizers

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   This is the study that launched the concept of the super-recognizer in 2009. One of the researchers who wrote this paper has the opposite neurological condition – prosopagnosia.

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: 10.1167/10.7.582 http://www.journalofvision.org/content/10/7/582.short Abstract only available. Prosopagnosics had smaller fusiform face areas than the super-recognizers.

Davis, J.P., Lander, K., Evans, R. and Neville, M. (2012) Facial identification from CCTV: investigating predictors of exceptional performance amongst police officers. In: European Association of Psychology and Law 2012, 10-13 Apr 2012, Nicosia, Cyprus. (Unpublished)  http://gala.gre.ac.uk/8462/  This paper was presented at a conference, with authors apparently including Dr Josh Davis and Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville. A lengthy and interesting abstract is openly available but the full paper has restricted access. I have not read full paper. See also below.

Davis, J.P., Lander, K. & Evans, R. (2013). Facial identification from CCTV: Investigating predictors of exceptional face recognition performance amongst police officers. Manuscript submitted for publication. This citation was taken from the list of reference in a 2013 article in The Psychologist.

Richard Russell, Garga Chatterjee, Ken Nakayama Developmental prosopagnosia and super-recognition: No special role for surface reflectance processing.  Neuropsychologia 50 (2012) 334– 340. http://public.gettysburg.edu/~rrussell/Russell_etal_2012.pdf

Hoflinger, Laura Hirnforschung – Superhelden aus dem Museum. Der Spiegel. Volume 11 2012 p.129-131. Article in German, an English translation can be downloaded free in PDF form from Superrecognizers website: http://superrecognizers.squarespace.com/  This article in a popular German magazine reports on the 2011-2012 study of super-recognizers done by Dr Ashok Jansari and his team at UEL, recruiting study subjects from visitors the the Science museum in London. This study has not yet been published in a science journal, but according to a 2013 article by Jansari and other researchers it is being perpared for publication.

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 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.)

Bobak, Anna, Bate, Sarah and Parris, Ben Group differences in the scanning of faces: Insights from ‘super-recognizers’, developmental prosopagnosia and individuals with typical face memory. CogDev 2013: Joint Annual Conference of the BPS Cognitive and Developmental Sections, University of Reading, 4-6 Sept 2013. p.77-78.  http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/pcls/COGDEV2013FINAL.pdf  “The current work investigates the eye-movement patterns during face study and recognition in super-recognizers, individuals with developmental prosopagnosia and matched control participants.” The researchers reportedly found a clear relationship between superiority in face recognition ability (as expressed by membership of either of the three categories of subjects) and looking at the eyes relatively more of the time than looking at the mouth, during learning and also in recognition phases of the task.

Russell, Richard ???? An article about super-recognizers by Caroline Williams published in 2012 in New Scientist magazine claimed that Russell and his research team have done an fMRI study of super-recognizers and the paper was due for publication in late 2012. Assistant Prof. Russell was quoted as saying that supers “seem to be using their brains somewhat differently”. Can’t wait to read this paper.

“Sparrow 2010” ????? This study is mentioned in a discussion of super-recognizers at the web page of the face-recognition research team at the University of East London “The first research in the UK to address this phenomenon was undertaken as part of an MSc project at UEL producing very promising corroborative findings (Sparrow, 2010). ” http://www.uel.ac.uk/psychology/research/face-recognition/ I have not been able to find publication details of this study and I think it remains unpublished. A researcher by the name S. S. Sparrow has had other papers published in the area of autism and face perception. Dr Ashok Jansari was quoted in a 2013 article in The Psychologist in a piece about super-recognizer Moira Jones in the Digest section that “I set up an MSc project to look for super-recognisers in 2010 and have been exploring the phenomenon ever since.”

Tests Which Can be Used to Identify Super-recognizers

Duchaine, Brad & Nakayama, Ken The Cambridge Face Memory Test: Results for neurologically intact individuals and an investigation of its validity using inverted face stimuli and prosopagnosic participantsNeuropsychologia 44 (2006) 576–585. http://visionlab.harvard.edu/members/ken/Ken%20papers%20for%20web%20page/137neuropsychologiaDuchaine2006.pdf  This is the study that validated the test of face memory that has become the “gold standard”, and which is used to identify super-recognizers

Are you ready to find out if you may be a super recogniser? https://greenwichuniversity.eu.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_9ZVm6G3McDma37D  A three-minute test from Dr Josh Davis, the University of Greenwich and Qualtrics.

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

Television News and Current Affairs Reports About Super-recognizers and Face Recognition

London police using crime-fighting “super recognizers” official. Reporter Mark Phillips. CBS News. Dailymotion. Publication date November 12th 2013. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x173o5e_london-police-using-crime-fighting-super-recognizers_news   An American report on the use of super-recognizers in London policing. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville explains how inadequate computer facial recognition was found to be compared with results from police supers. PC Gary Collins and researcher Dr Josh Davis are also interviewed, and super-recognizer police doing identification work are shown. It is revealed that tests are being developed for recruiting super-recognizers into a police force in London.

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

Comments on: Are you a “super-recognizer”? Take a test. http://www.cbsnews.com/8601-504803_162-57399111.html?assetTypeId=41&blogId=10391709&tag=postComments;commentWrapper

Face Blindness. Reporter – Lesley Stahl, Producer – Shari Finkelstein, 60 Minutes, CBS News, Broadcast March 18th 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57399118/face-blindness-when-everyone-is-a-stranger/?tag=contentMain;contentBody

Super-recognisers (The One Show, BBC 1 Scotland): Dr Josh P Davis….  YouTube. Broadcast on BBC1 on 9th April 2013. Uploaded by Dr Josh P. Davis, copyright owned by BBC1 Scotland. http://youtu.be/PuPfQ8UZTGQ In this clip from The One Show Dr Michael Mosley interviews super-recognizer policeman Gary Collins and super-recognition researcher Dr Josh Davis.

Police super-recognisers. reporter Sharon Thomas London Tonight. London Regional News. ITV. Tue Feb 28 2012  http://www.itnsource.com/en/jp/shotlist/ITN/2012/02/28/T28021245/?v=0&a=1 See it on YouTube: http://youtu.be/7QA4ih5u-vk PC Gary Collins from the Metropolitan Police and researcher Dr Josh Davis were interviewed.

Super-Recognisers on Planetopia (German TV) featuring Dr Josh P Davis…. YouTube Published October 2012.
http://youtu.be/F3NhZUTWPno  Also published here:  http://youtu.be/7KxqnaTZCOo An interesting video of a special report about super-recognizers on a German TV show in German.

Dr Josh P. Davis http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3rErlc6ayyZb1ROLvPQPtA?feature=watch YouTube channel of this researcher.

Radio Stories About Super-recognizers

Hammond, Claudia Super recognizers. BBC Radio 4. first broadcast 25 Jan 2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q3fbv

Super-recognizer Researchers’ Web Pages and Websites

Superrecognizers. http://superrecognizers.squarespace.com/ A website of Dr Ashok Jansari and his team at the University of East London

Face-Recognition Research Team, UEL School of Psychology http://www.uel.ac.uk/psychology/research/face-recognition/ Dr Jansari is the team leader

http://www.joshpdavis.org.uk/#!news/mainPage news page at website of Dr Josh P. Davis of the University of Greenwich

Social Perception Lab, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/index.html  Superrecognition authority and prosopagnosia researcher Assoc. Prof. Brad Duchaine is the PI at this lab.

Richard Russell http://public.gettysburg.edu/~rrussell/index.html  Website of face perception researcher Richard Russell Assistant Professor of Psychology Gettysburg College Psychology Department

Academic Book Chapter About Super-recognizers Scheduled for publication in 2014:

Valentine, T., & Davis, J.P. (Editors). Forensic Facial Identification. Wiley Blackwell.  (Authors will be Dr Josh P Davis from University of Greenwich and Professor Tim Valentine from Goldsmiths, University of London)

Popular non-fiction book apparently written by a British super-recognizer police officer:

Officer “A” The Crime Factory: The Shocking True Story of a Front-Line CID Detective. Mainstream Publishing, 5 April 2012. This book was published under a nom de plume or pen name, but some sources give Andy Jennings as the author’s name. This is a quite sensationalist account of a now-retired UK police undercover detective’s career experiences while working in Australia for the WA Police Force (WAPOL). This book includes many descriptions of blunders and inadequacies of WAPOL. There has been debate among readers about how much of this book is fiction. A passage on page 12 suggests that the author is a super-recognizer and there is discussion on page 53 of what it is like to have a “photographic memory”. I have written about this book here. 

Reddit discussion about a super-recognizer and a prosopagnosic who are in a relationship

MyNameIs BrookeToo I am a faceblind girl dating a super-recognizer. AUsA. Reddit. Discussion started March 25th 2012. http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/rcgh8/i_am_a_faceblind_girl_dating_a_superrecognizer/  A fascinating and long discussion in which a prosopagnosic lady using the name MyNameIs BrookeToo and her super-recognizer boyfriend using the name Shandog answer many questions.

Science Journal, Magazine, Science News and Press Articles About Super-recognizers

Rutherford, Pam Never forgetting a face. BBC News. January 25th 2010 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8474827.stm

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.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Supers.pdf  A substantial article but not easy to obtain in full text

Hoflinger, Laura Hirnforschung – Superhelden aus dem Museum. Der Spiegel. Volume 11 2012 p.129-131. Article in German, an English translation can be downloaded free in PDF form from Superrecognizers website: http://superrecognizers.squarespace.com/ This article in a popular German magazine reports on the 2011-2012 study of super-recognizers done by Dr Ashok Jansari and his team at UEL, a study which to my knowledge has not yet been published in a science journal.)

Williams, Caroline Face savers. New Scientist. 15 September 2012 no.2882 pages 36-39.   online title: ‘Super-recognisers’ have amazing memory for faces. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528821.500-superrecognisers-have-amazing-memory-for-faces.html Worth a read. Caroline Williams has also written an article about prosopagnosia for this magazine. I have found one letter by Maryse Palemans in response to the above article, published in October 2012 in the magazine, in which Maryse recounted how a super-recognizer father surprised a policeman met 20 years earlier by recognizing him, an amusing reversal of the usual theme of police super-recognizers identifying members of the public. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21628861.200-ello-ello-ello.html

How to recognise the super-recognisers. British Psychological Society. August 30th 2012. http://www.bps.org.uk/news/how-recognise-super-recognisers

(a short discussion of research by Davis, Lander and Evans.)

Davis, J.P. Super-recognisers in the police: Exceptional at face recognition, highly meticulous or viewing the right CCTV footage at the wrong time – for the criminal? University of Kent Research Seminar Series. February 2013.    http://media.wix.com/ugd/81aef3_e5f728b80964b0a3e805181574b2b248.pdf

(an abstract of a seminar which apparently was not presented)

Storr, Will Human image banks: meet the Met’s ‘Super recognisers’. Telegraph. March 26th 2013.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/9942759/Human-image-banks-meet-the-Mets-Super-recognisers.html

(A substantial article about the work of police super-recognizer Idris Bada and other police supers. DCI Mick Neville interviewed. PC Martin Lotriet also identified as a police super. Dr Josh Davis interviewed, and his surname misspelt.)

‘Super recognisers’ turn gaze on Carnival. Metropolitan Police: Total Policing. August 21st 2013.  http://content.met.police.uk/News/Super-recognisers-turn-gaze-on-Carnival/1400019306715/1257246745756

(A brief article in a police publication. Number of identified supers in the Metropolitan Police given as 180. Includes the interesting claim that super police officers can remember not only faces but also names, birth dates and other details of offenders, which highlights the fact that memory is based in the initial encoding of information, which may be limited or detailed.)

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.)

Taylor, Matthew Police ‘super recognisers’ to keep watch over Notting Hill carnival. Guardian. August 24th 2013.  http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/23/police-super-recognisers-notting-hill-carnival

(An article about plans for the huge upcoming Notting Hill Carnival in England, including the planned first ever significant use of (police) super-recognizers to monitor a live event. Chief Superintendent Mick Johnson from the Metropolitan Police interviewed. Police super Patrick O’Riordan interviewed.)

Perry, Susan ‘Super recognizers’: People who never forget a face. MinnPost. August 29th 2013.  http://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2013/08/super-recognizers-people-who-never-forget-face

(Science News article by Gaidos summarized. Use of supers by UK police discussed. Research by Dr Isabel Gauthier on use of face recognition brain areas for specialist visual ID of classes of objects is discussed.)

Buckland, Danny Police officers’ superhuman ability to recognise faces is being used to fight crime. Express. September 1st 2013.  http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/426014/Police-officers-superhuman-ability-to-recognise-faces-is-being-used-to-fight-crime

(includes photo of Metropolitan Police super-recognizers Paul Hyland, Kieran Grant and Patrick O’Riordan. The use of supers by The Met during the Notting Hill Carnival described. Police supers and super-recognition researcher Dr Ashok Jansari interviewed and asserts the superiority of humans over technology in face recognition.)

Cheng, Maria, Keaten, Jamey, Associated Press Don’t I know you? If London police’s super recognizers have met you before, the answer is yes. Canada.com September 27th 2013.  http://www.canada.com/health/Dont+know+London+polices+super+recognizers+have+before+answer/8965531/story.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+canwest%2FF67+(canada.com+Body+and+Health)

(“Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Paris.” Police super-recognizer Paul Hyland discussed. Use of Met police supers at Notting Hill Carnival described. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville gives figures for achievements of police super-recognizers versus a facial recognition program showing vast inferiority of the technology. Opinions from legal experts about use of supers as expert witnesses is recounted, critical view from privacy advocate recounted, and use of supers in obtaining search warrants discussed. Major super-recognition researchers interviewed. Dr Josh Davis discusses plans for more research and a new test. Dr Brad Duchaine claims supers are superior to technology.)

AP/Cheng, Maria London Police Use Super Recognizers to Fight Crime. Time. September 27th 2013.  http://world.time.com/2013/09/27/london-police-use-super-recognizers-to-fight-crime/#ixzz2hkafR9rC

(same as above)

Cheng, Maria / AP Super Recognizers Used By London Police To Fight Crime. Huffington Post. September 27th 2013.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/27/super-recognizers_n_4002839.html

(same as above)

Jaslow, Ryan London police using 200 super-recognizers: What makes them “super”?. CBS News. September 27th 2013.  http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57605067/london-police-using-200-super-recognizers-what-makes-them-super/

(Superrecognition researcher Prof. Richard Russell interviewed, estimates super-recognizers are 1 in 1,000.)

Camber, Rebecca The man who NEVER forgets the face: How Scotland Yard’s elite squad of 200 ‘super recognisers’ can spot a suspect in a crowd. MailOnline. Daily Mail. September 27th 2013.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2435043/Scotland-Yards-elite-squad-200-super-recognisers-forget-face.html#ixzz2gFQzxiVF

(similar to the AP article but shorter and with interesting photos.)

AP London police use super recognizers to fight crime. Times of India. September 28th 2013.  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/uk/London-police-use-super-recognizers-to-fight-crime/articleshow/23191190.cms

(Same article as one by Cheng, Keaten and AP)

Cheng, Maria, Associated Press Super recognisers help Scotland Yard fight crime. National. September 27th 2013.  http://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/super-recognisers-help-scotland-yard-fight-crime

(similar to other articles)

AP London police use super recognisers to fight crime. Gulf News. September 27th 2013.  http://gulfnews.com/news/world/london-police-use-super-recognisers-to-fight-crime-1.1236204

(similar to other articles)

Cheng, Maria, Associated Press Don’t I know you? London police squad of elite super recognizers a new concept. Windsor Star. September 28th 2013.  http://www.windsorstar.com/know+London+police+squad+elite+super+recognizers+concept/8971850/story.html

(appears to be an edited version of AP story)

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

(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.)

Jarrett, Christian Day 2 of Digest super Week: meet a super-recogniser. BPS Research Digest. October 8th 2013.  http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/day-2-of-digest-super-week-meet-super.html

(appears to be the same as the piece in The Psychologist by Sam McFarland about Moira Jones)

If you know of any substantial item that should be in this list but isn’t, please let me know in a comment.

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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
http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Supers.pdf

EBSCOhost Accession number 7EH53940939

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/

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.

Two very interesting articles about the Metropolitan Police and face recognition

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
http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/

This newspaper article from last month is is behind a paywall, so if you don’t have a subscription to this British newspaper, and you do have access to the EBSCOhost online media article service through a public or academic library, you could try logging on to it and in the search box type in “AN 7EH53940939”.

There is much fascinating information in this article about an elite squad of super-recognizers working in London’s Metropolitan Police force to identify faces in CCTV recordings of the England riots. Face recognition technology gets a surprisingly poor review in this article.

Face recognition technology fails to find UK rioters
by Niall Firth
New Scientist
18 August 2011
Magazine issue 2826 August 20th 2011 page 19.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128266.000-face-recognition-technology-fails-to-find-uk-rioters.html

Super-recognizers are not mentioned in this earlier article about the Metropolitan Police identifying faces in CCTV recordings of the England riots, which focuses instead on the limitations and development of face recognition technology.

Recognizing relatedness in the face – could a super-recognizer perform better than software?

I believe that I probably could out-perform both of the interesting kinship recognition computer programs that are discussed in this most interesting recent article in New Scientist magazine, but there is still a lot to be learned from the researchers’ efforts to develop software that can detect whether two people in photographs are related. The first program described in this article had a success rate of 68% in detecting parent-child matches, the second program a 71% success rate, and people (presumably with average ability in face recognition) had a success rate of 67%. I’d love to see a similar study done with super-recognizers compared to normal human controls or pitted against a computer program. My money would be on nature’s best, rather than the latest technology.

It’s interesting to note that the first program described uses a method which I think is very different to natural face recognition, analysing fine details of the picture, while human face recognition is thought to be a process of identifying an overall pattern rather than looking at the picture piece-by-piece. The focus on details of this program appears to give the program a fair degree of robustness and flexibility in dealing with variations in the appearance of faces in photos. As researchers have found in another study (published online in the journal Cognition) , there can be considerable variability in the appearance of the same face in different photographs, and while people who are familiar with a face are able to identify the same face in different photos, people who were unfamiliar with that face did not have whatever it takes to be able to overcome variations among different photos of the same person to identify the photos as being of the same person. Clearly there is something in the memory of a person who is familiar with a face which gives their ability to recognize that face a great robustness and flexibility. I wonder what it is?

A quote from the New Scientist article: “Lu reckons that improved algorithms could be used to help determine kinship when DNA testing isn’t an option. “It can also help refugees find dispersed family members,” he suggests.” I believe that with my well above average ability in face recognition I would probably perform well in these types of tasks. I would love to work in a job or a business in which I was identifying faces or picking out related people from photographs or identifying people who have a genetic similarity (I can be contacted through leaving a comment on a blog post). Face recognition is an ability with applications that go way beyond personal socializing. Superior face recognition could be useful in many important areas of work, including law enforcement, private detective work, social work (working with adopted people or displaced families) and medicine (identifying genetic syndromes), and it appears that the current state of technological development of face photograph recognition technology is at a pretty basic level, only marginally better than the ability of the average person. In contrast, super-recognizers have a face recognition ability that far exceeds that of normal people, and I have good reason to believe that I could be a superrecognizer. I feel quite confident about my ability to detect kinship or genetic similarity from looking at people’s faces because I believe that is probably what I was involuntarily doing when I experienced The Strange Phenomenon, which I have described in the first post in this blog. Last month the British Sunday Times newspaper reported that London’s Metropolitan Police force have an elite squad of super-recognizers who have proven to be much more useful than face recogition technology. “The Met” are actively searching for more superrecognizers within their ranks to help with the huge task of identifying faces in many hours of CCTV images of the English riots. It seems odd to me that so much research is being done on creating and improving technology in face recognition when we have only just started to understand the naturally-occuring human ability in face recognition that has always existed.

Facial recognition software spots family resemblance
7 December 2011 by Kate McAlpine
Magazine issue 2842
New Scientist
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228424.900-facial-recognition-software-spots-family-resemblance.html

Rob Jenkins, David White, Xandra Van Montfort, A. Mike Burton Variability in photos of the same face. Cognition. Available online 3 September 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027711002022

A Most Peculiar Experience  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/a-most-peculiar-experience/

Face photographs unsuitable as proof of identity due to within-person variability?  https://superrecognizer.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/face-photographs-unsuitable-as-proof-of-identity-due-to-within-person-variability/

Thanks for the tip

Through a tweet retweeted by Dr Ashok Jansari at his Twitter account I’ve discovered a most informative UK newspaper article about an elite team of super-recognizers in the Metropolitan Police, which operates around London I think. I’m from Perth in Australia, so “the Met” does not mean a lot to me. I’m off to bed now but I hope to have the opportunity some time soon to share my thoughts about this fascinating insight into super-recognizing as an important and sought-after skill in the world of paid work.

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/