Tag Archives: Superrecognizers Study

Dr Ashok Jansari’s search for super-recognizers finds seven – article in Der Spiegel

According to the English translation of this article, which is available through the Superrecognizers website belonging to Dr Jansari and his team at the University of East London, the search for super-recognizers in London that was conducted late last year into early 2012 yielded 7 super-recognizers out of the 725 people who participated in the testing study at the Science Museum in London, including a surprising find that the brother of Dr Jansari is one of the seven. How strange is that? So, we know that one of the seven super-recognizers is male. What are the genders of the others? I don’t think it says in this article.

Also of interest in the article is information about the elite group of super-recognizer police in London’s Metropolitan Police, with interviews with super-super-recognizer Idris Bada and Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville.

Hoflinger, Laura Hirnforschung – Superhelden aus dem Museum. Der Spiegel. Volume 11 2012 p.129-131.  http://www.superrecognizers.com/storage/Der%20Spiegel_super-recognizers_March2012.pdf

An English translation can be accessed from here:  http://www.superrecognizers.com/in-the-news/

This is a quote from the translation:

“The neuropsychologist Jansari suspects that his brother and the other super-recognizers process faces in a rather holistic way; they do not focus as much on single parts of the face, like the nose, mouth or eyes.”

If I’m a super-recognizer, then I don’t know if this idea of super-recognizers having more holistic perception with less focus on individual elements explains the difference between us and people with normal levels of ability. I do very much notice individual elements of faces, consciously and unconsciously, as well as recognizing whole faces in a way that feels automatic and uncontrolled. I will notice if different people have mouths or ears that look similar and also distinctive. I recall that a boy I knew when I was a teen and he was a child had a William Shatner mouth, which is a quite an unusual type of mouth where the upper lip looks the larger. Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela seem to have very similar smiles and lower faces, but not identical faces. I think the difference between a super-recognizer and a regular recognizer might be that the former does both holisitc and detailed perception well and also in a well-integrated manner. I believe enhanced brain wiring akin to synaesthesia might be the basis of this enhanced integration of both modes of perception. I suspect that an emphasis on perceiving faces feature-by-feature might be more characteristic of poor face recognition than good face recognition. In the recent CBS 60 Minutes story about prosopagnosia and super-recognizers the prosopagnosic artist Chuck Close was asked to identify the faces of some famous people. He did manage to identify some of the faces and he explained how he did it. He identified Jay Leno from his very unusual chin and picked Tiger Woods from his lips.

It is interesting to see for the first time researchers giving estimates of how common (or rare) super-recognizers might be in the population at large. The seven in seven hundred and twenty-five people tested in the London study suggests that super-recognizers are made by mother nature at a rate of just over 1% of the population, while Dr Jansari’s team give an estimate of 2% for super-recognizers at their website http://www.superrecognizers.com/about/  I guess it all depends on definitions and cut-off points, which are arbitrary. At levels of one or two percent super-recognizers are rare enough to constitute some kind of elite, worth identifying or recruiting if the trait is found to have some value or utility, but are also not so rare that anyone can dismiss the possibility that one could encounter or find a super-recognizer in their community or workplace or social circle. Perhaps super-recognizers should form some kind of association or society or club. The future is anyone’s guess, as this area of scientific inquiry is shiny and new, and we are dealing with a concept that is only a few years old.

At the beginning of the Der Spiegel article there are six photographs of famous people when they were children, which can be used as a mini Before They Were Famous Test if you don’t scroll down too soon and see who they are. How many of them are you able to identify? I picked three of them correctly, and couldn’t guess at the others who were not unknown to me but weren’t hugely familiar either, as I’m not as European as the magazine is. I had seen the photo of the little boy with the big hat before and knew who it is. The thing that really struck me about this photo is the apparent abnormality with the child’s eyes. They don’t match – one is much darker than the other, which seems rather worrying. Some people naturally have irises of different colours, but it isn’t a good thing if pupil sizes don’t match.

I’ve not mentioned before that there are three different types of things to look at which seem to catch my eye in ways that are a maybe bit extreme or distracting. These things are faces (animals and human), cars travelling at a speed of around 40 KPH (especially the wheels), and eyes. I simply cannot abide the sight of eyes that point in different directions, even in the slightest. Glass eyes are the worst, and lazy eyes make me feel ill, even if the owner of them is the nicest person in the world. And some apparently healthy and normal people have eyes that seem to be very slightly out. This seems to happen more often in people whose eyes protrude slightly, for whatever reason, and this type of thing seems to be unusually common among a particular ethnic group from the South Pacific. Another eye issue that sets me on edge is eyes with pupils that don’t look right, because one looks bigger in one eye than the other, or they both seem to be too dilated, bringing to mind the image of a pet cat in an aggressive mood. Have you ever read the classic short story The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe? A bad eye can certainly be quite a distraction, but it isn’t only eye imperfection which catches my eye. I can also become quite distracted by the perfection of good eyes in some circumstances. Newborn babies are such lovely little things with soft, perfect skin, but they are quite limited in things that they can do to express themselves physically. Their limb movements seem random and quite uncontrolled, but the way their eyes move is a display of how perfectly a baby has been put together by nature, because even though the baby might look around in an apparently uncontrolled manner, his or her eyes will usually match perfectly in their movements. This I find fascinating, in a way that seems to owe more to instinct than to intellect. Maybe all mothers find the eyes of young babies fascinating in a way that is strangely compelling. I’m just glad that I don’t live on an island in the South Pacific.

Study still going

(edit April 2012 – as far as I know this study ended in January 2012)

It looks like the super-recognizer study held at the Science Museum in London is still going, but scheduled to wind up soon. I believe the researchers from the University of East London hope to find study participants who are superrecognizers, so if you are in that area and suspect that you might be one, you might want to make inquiries.

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/events/demonstrations/Live_Science_faces.aspx?eventId={BD494D12-C6FB-4A57-8A2B-28B1567C3702}

Links related to Face-recognition research team at Uni of East London, Dr Ashok Jansari and their study of super recognizers

There is quite a bit of info here about prosopagnosia and super-recognizers and the University of East London research team:

Face-recognition Research Team http://www.uel.ac.uk/psychology/research/face-recognition/

Their study in which they hope to find some super-recognizers:

Superrecognizers http://www.superrecognizers.com/

Their Facebook page:

Face Recognition Research at UEL http://www.facebook.com/Face.Recognition.Research.at.UEL

Info from the Science Museum about the superrecognizers study:

Who am I? Live Science – Familiar Faces http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/visitmuseum/events/demonstrations/Live_Science_faces.aspx

Dr Ashok Jansari at Twitter:

Ashok Jansari @ SuperRecognizer  http://twitter.com/superrecognizer

YouTube video with interview with Dr Jansari:

Dr Ashok Jansari on BBC The One Show talking about Prosopagnosia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5Hooty5YMo

YouTube channel of Dr Jansari?

Superrecognizers  http://www.youtube.com/user/Superrecognizers?feature=watch

This website appears to be under construction and associated with this research team:

Name That Face  http://namethatface.org/

YouTube video about prosopagnosia with an interview with Dr Ashok Jansari, and David who has acquired prosopagnosia

Dr Ashok Jansari is one of the researchers involved with the study of superrecognizers that is currently happening in London, and runs till early January 2012, and is seeking participants who believe that they might be super-recognizers. Dr Jansari studies both extremes of face memory ability. I love his suit.

In this video a British man with acquired prosopagnosia, David Bromley, is interviewed by the rather cute English science television host Dr Michael Mosley. David generously explains what it is like to be suddenly forced to manage in life without any face memory. To compensate David has become very attentive to details of a person’s appearance other than the face.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/H5Hooty5YMo

Super-recognizer study being conducted at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, and you are invited!

(edit – as far as I know this experiment ended in January 2012. If you are interested in super-recognizers it might still be worth a look at the link given below.)

Cognitive neuroscience researchers from the University of East London including Dr Ashok Jansari are apparently inviting anyone who suspects that they might be a super-recognizer (and can get to London) to participate in a scientific study. I live in Australia, so unfortunately I can’t participate in this study myself and I can’t personally comment much about this study beyond what anyone can read at the website for the study, but it looks to me like this is a genuine thing and I’m very interested to know what these researchers might find as a result of their study.

I’m spitting chips because it looks as though they might be using the Before They Were Famous test in this study, and I’ve been trying since September last year to gain access to this study to find out for certain whether I fall into the category of super-recognizer. It’s a heck of a long distance from Western Australia to London. If it weren’t so far I’d be there in a flash!

If you suspect that you might have below-average ability in face recognition, or prosopagnosia, maybe this live, in-person study in London might be worth looking into, I’m not sure. A good alternative might be looking at the Faceblind.org website which is run by prosopagnosia researchers at Harvard University and Univesity College in London, and maybe trying a free online test of face memory, and contacting the people at Faceblind.org if you identify a problem.

Superrecognizers (study in London)  http://www.superrecognizers.com/

Faceblind.org   http://www.faceblind.org/index.html

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/