Tag Archives: Twins

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?

Lecture by world-class researcher about super-recognition and prosopagnosia

This talk or lecture by Professor Nancy Kanwisher is not new and the content will be nothing new to regular readers of this blog, but it is a nice introduction to the concepts of prosopagnosia, super-recognizers and the spectrum theory of face recognition ability, which has been challenged to a degree in a recent paper. I also like the little comment about the experience of being a “smart” student in high school. As a parent of gifted kids I know all about that stuff.

Individual differences in face recognition and developmental prosopagnosia



See more at:

Nancy’s Brain Talks



Picking the difference between identical twins – the ultimate test of face recognition

“A computer program that can pick out small differences in identical twins’ facial features as they age can distinguish them 90 per cent of the time.”

Lines on the face help pick out the twin who dunnit.  by Sara Reardon New Scientist. 19 July 2013 Magazine issue 2926.  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929266.200-lines-on-the-face-help-pick-out-the-twin-who-dunnit.html#.Uel2c403B8E

Gender should be the only difference between these faces

The photograph at the beginning of the Boston Globe news story detailed below is particularly interesting to me, a person who has a natural interest in faces, because the two faces photographed are probably the world’s only example of a set of two human faces in which the only difference between their faces should be a gender-related difference. I don’t know if there are any other sets of identical twins in the world in which one and only one twin is a transgender person who has been treated with a puberty-blocking medication which halts the face-sculpting effects of sex hormones, leaving one twin on the usual developmental trajectory and the other retaining a face that could be judged to be of the opposite gender to the one that both twins were born with. In a nutshell, these are identical twins of different genders. Advances in the way that transgendered people are treated by the medical profession has made the impossible possible. The life story of Nicole Maines (formerly Wyatt Maines) and Jonas Maines and their family is something remarkable. I recommend this fascinating news article.

For over a year I have been on a quest to get a definite answer to the question of whether or not I am a super-recognizer, after unexpectedly getting perfect scores on some face recognition tests. One thing that is possibly a characteristic of a superrecognizer’s perceptions of faces is that I often involuntarily notice that the face of a person who is new to me looks similar to the face of a person whose face is in my memory, sometimes very old memories. This is very much like the experience of recognition of the face of the same person seen on two different occasions. The thing that I find interesting about my pseudo-recognition of a new face is that it transcends gender (like the considerable remaining similarities in the appearances of the faces of Jonas and Nicole). I’m just as likely to notice close similarity between the face of a new person and a face in my memory that is of the opposite gender as I’m likely to notice a close similarity between memorized and newly seen faces of people of the same gender. It’s not that I’m blind to gender, but my mind is able to process gender characteristics of faces and the essential genetically based unique “character” of faces separately, and keep these different types of influence on the appearance of faces quite separate in my thinking. Some examples of this noticing of cross-gender facial similarity would be the time when I was watching a documentary about the Australian rock band The Angels staging a comeback tour with aged and conflicted performers. I was struck by a similarity between the face of Doc Neeson and one of the older matriarchs of our family, who also had Celtic heritage. I hope Mr Neeson never reads this. Another example would be the time when I was viewing a painting by Salvador Dali in which he used an image of the face of the writer Voltaire, in an elderly and cheerful state. Voltaire’s face reminded me so much of the face, and the smile, of another of our family’s matriarchs, who like Voltaire was born in Europe. I think this resemblance owes more to a common lack of teeth and advanced age and a good mood in spite of these things, than it owes to a huge resemblance between unique facial appearance. Both female matriarchs had wide faces. I believe that The Strange Phenomenon, which I described in the first post in this blog, is another example of involuntarily seeing a cross-gender facial resemblance.

I’m also able to process the appearance of a face resulting from colouring quite separately from the look of the actual face. I believe other people are more influenced by things like skin colour, eye colour and hair when recognizing people than I am. My focus is on the face. Lots of people believe there is a close resemblance between the actress Tilda Swinton and the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I think these people are overly influenced by the redhead thing. When I look at Swinton I think “pale and thin” rather than “Gillard-like”.

Perhaps a high degree of attention to features of appearance other than the pure look of a face is a warning sign of poor face memory. We know that prosopagnosics often identify people by non-facial aspects of appearance such as clothes, hair and glasses. Do they also place greater emphasis on colouring, age and gender, or do they also have also trouble processing these aspects of personal appearance?

Led by the child who simply knew.

by Bella English
Boston Globe
December 11, 2011

Wikipedia contributors, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=461577243 (accessed December 14, 2011).

Tilda Swinton totally looks like Julia Gillard (Australian PM)  http://totallylookslike.icanhascheezburger.com/2010/10/07/tilda-swinton-julia-gillard-australian-pm/