Tag Archives: Visual details

Why you will leave shops empty-handed this Christmas season, just the same as last year, and the year before that….

As sure as night follows day, in the days leading up to Christmas supermarkets will run out of packets of dehydrated French onion soup, just when you had the idea to make your own cheap but tasty party dips out of cream cheese or sour cream and the aforementioned processed soup. I’m guessing this happens every year because the state-of-the-art stock ordering computer programs used by the supermarkets group products into categories, and soup being a product range that generally sells more in winter, is not ordered in any quantity in the summer season leading up to Christmas in Australia. Perhaps a similar logic explains why breakfast foods such as hash browns and kippers become scarce in the festive season. I’m guessing that cooked breakfast foods aren’t items in the summer range, even though big cooked breakfasts have been a popular form of family Christmas meal in Australia since the 1990s.

More common and perennial problems in stock replenishment in retail establishments are the big empty chasms where useful and desirable products are supposed to be stocked, and the related problem of the wrong product housed in slots on variety and supermarket shelves. These issues are a problem for retailers, as in the former situation a sale does not happen and in the latter situation the item stocked will most likely be advertised at the wrong price. If the shopper has seen a box of 375g salted mixed nuts stocked in a slot displaying a price of $3.00, around $3.05 less than the price that it scans at, the customer has every right to insist that they be sold the item at the lesser price that they saw when they selected the item, even though I’ve found that staff at a local Woolworths supermarket will defend their right to display $8 pots of bubble-mix in the slot in the toy section designated to $3 bubble mix, not conceding one red cent of discount, whatever the consumer law might say. Shoppers also have a problem when stuff isn’t kept in the shops where stuff is meant to be found. When confronted with fresh air where an item on their shopping list should be found a shopper could feel peeved, because they then have to walk across the shopping centre or drive across town to source an alternative, or do without. And when they are confronted with incorrectly shelved items they may become misled or confused over the price. And the problem goes deeper than that. When some dunce fills a box of Fimo soft light modelling clay packets into a slot at an Officeworks store which was supposed to house similar-sized packages of Das air-drying modelling clay, and hangs an “out-of-stock” sign where the Fimo item should reside, the Fimo is then advertised at the wrong price as a different product, and I’m guessing when the automatic stock-ordering system delivers more of the Das clay, which is really out-of-stock, the shelf-stocking person might find an full slot where their box of Das product should be placed. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but I know that in supermarket night-fill operations the workers are placed under constant pressure to throw product onto the shelves fast, so there isn’t time for anyone to pull the twenty-three blackcurrant jam jars out of the blackberry jam slot, rebox or rehouse them all, and then refill the slot with the contents of the box of blackberry jam. What will probably happen is that the box of blackberry jam will be marked as overstock and returned to the back of the supermarket on a cage to languish in darkness for an indefinite sentence. I hope you like blackcurrant jam, and I hope you don’t have an allergic reaction to the hazelnut wafers that were shelved in the chocolate wafers slot.

I understand that once retail shelves have been allowed to degrade into a state of chaos the disorder becomes a self-perpetuating system, and I know that hope can never be held for any logic or order in any retail space devoted to an extensive range of light globes, but I also wonder whether I’m the only one who sees the errors in product stocking every time I walk into a shop or walk down a retail aisle. Do other shoppers notice the boxes of fish fingers heaped six-high above the fill-line in the freezers? Do store managers notice the expired use-by dates, the 600ml bottles sitting in the 300ml bottle slot, the grey bacon, or does it not register? If they do see the mess and the mistakes, does it not bother them?

The phrase “an eye for detail” pops up fairly frequently in the world of recruiting and HR but no one ever tests for it, and as far as I know, there are no valid, reliable, standardised tests relevant to “eye for detail” and I know of no scientific definition of this ability (readers please correct me and inform me if you know more about this than I do). The standard of spelling ability of job applicants might be used to estimate “eye for detail”, but this standard is a fairly low bar, and it is also not an area of ability that another poor speller is able to judge. One fundamental truth that I’ve learned in researching the science of face memory and visual recognition is that seeing doesn’t simply happen in the eyes, it happens in the eyes and brain. You can have your eyes open but not really see if your brain isn’t processing the information supplied by your eyes, and that is why we all get to see so many dark, empty spaces when we are trying to stock up for the silly season.

If this is some kind of test…..

…I honestly don’t see how anyone could fail it. Seriously?

http://www.newscientist.com/gallery/image-detail

If you couldn’t see properly, would you be the last one to know?

I think it is fair to say that they average person believes that seeing and vision is all about the eyes. In actual fact, a person could be blind but still possess perfectly functioning eyes. the eyes don’t see. It is the brain, or the person who’s consciousness is produced by their brain, which does the seeing, more specifically, the parts of the brain that are responsible for visual processing. I think they are mostly at the back of the brain.

Vision is the result of the operation of the eyes and also the brain, and neuroscience is more and more becoming aware that there is a great amount of normal and also unhealthy variation among brains. The brains of dyslexics don’t handle reading well. The brains of left-handed people are definitley different to those of most of us, but not in one uniform way. Some people’s brains are damaged or derailed in development even before their untra-uterine development is completed and they are born, because their mother smoked during pregnancy or drank alcohol or had some misfortune such as catching one of the many infectious diseases that can harm a foetus. The genes that we all inherit or mutate can affect they way our brains work in profound ways, including visual processing. Prosopagnosia or face-blindness can be inherited and can run in families.

Your brain is different to my brain in countless ways that have an impact on the way our minds work. I often experience music as a coloured form of entertainment. You probably don’t. I can’t help but remember the faces of people that I meet, even if they are people who play very minor roles in my life and are not expected to be met ever again. Here’s an example. I took one of our kids to the Royal Show recently. One of the attendants at one of the animal pavillions was kind enough to let my child collect an egg that one of the prize-winning special-breed chickens had laid in it’s cage. He was a nice person, but there was nothing particularly memorable or different about his face or appearance, and I never expected to meet him again. Some hours later I involuntarily spotted his face among the teeming crowd of scores of show visitors surging down one of the streets in the showgrounds. As is usual, I consciously avoided looking like I had recognized him, lest I be seen as some kind of stalker weirdo. Is this kind of experience a common one? A rare one? Who could know for sure? One thing that I do know is that it was a complete surprise when on a whim I found the Cambridge Face Memory Test online and did the test and found that I had gotten a perfect score. At the same website for the first time I saw the term “super-recognizer”. What is a super-recognizer, I thought? Could I possibly be a super-recognizer? I’ll Google it!

It appears that I have some kind of visual gift, but I had no idea. People who have the opposite level of ability in face recognition also sometimes have little awareness that they are different from the norm. I recall seeing one of the prosopagnosics who were interviewed on the US version of 60 Minutes saying that before her diagnosis she had thought she was just not good with people. That’s a very vague idea of what the issue is. That is a remarkable lack of insight into what was going on in her life, but of course, I’m not blaming her. If you are looking for examples of visual or sensory processing disabilities that people can have but be unaware of, there are clearer examples to find than prosopagnosia. I’ve read that stroke patients can be unaware of a loss of vision in half of the visual field of one or both eyes (hemianopsia) or can be unaware of a loss of awareness of one side of space (Hemispatial neglect). People who have one form of colour-blindness, Anomalous trichromacy, can be unaware that their visual perception is different. Doctors even have a term for a lack of awareness of disability or deficit; Anosognosia. Psychologists have a term that seems to cover similar ground, plus some; the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In the Dunning-Kruger Effect people who lack skill in some area may mistakenly believe they are skilled or even above average, while people whose skills are excellent may lack the appropriate self-confidence to go with their high ability or expertise, because they mistakenly or unknowingly assume that everyone is operating at their level and they are just average. In my experience, the Dunning-Kruger Effect applies to visual processing ability. I’ve seen people time and time again mis-identify things such as plants, vehicles or animals with confidence, and time and time again, I get told that I’ve got a great eye for detail. Sometimes it seems to me that it is instead the case that I’m inexplicably surrounded by people who are borderline cases of cortical blindness, or are way overdue for an appointment with an optometrist. If you couldn’t see properly, would you be the last one to know?

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.