Never Forget A Face? Could You Be A ‘Super Recogniser?’
Do you have a talent for remembering people? Are you the type of person who watches TV and instantly recognises cast members from their previous roles? If so, then you could be amongst the very small percentage of people classed as ‘Super Recognisers’; individuals who are genetically predisposed to never forget a face.
The condition of prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, is very well known and studied. Those with the condition - including well known people such as Stephen Fry, Brad Pitt and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak - find it immensely challenging to recognise and remember the faces of people they have met before. It’s as if the image of the face is somehow wiped from memory shortly after an encounter. Recent research has discovered that this condition of face-blindness also has a flip-slide. A newly recognised condition which allows individuals to effortlessly fix a detailed picture of a face deep within the memory. Those with this talent for faces are commonly dubbed ‘Super Recognisers’.
What makes a Super Recogniser?
Super Recognisers are thought to include 1%-2% of the population but many of them will be completely unaware that they have a particularly unique ability. Other than noticing that they “never forget a face”, there are very few other signs of this particular neurological gift.
However, under test conditions, those who are Super Recognisers will remember around 80% of the faces they have seen, compared to just 20% for an average individual.
The most recent research into those with face recognition skills has only just started to uncover some other traits that may connect Super Recognisers. According to Dr Sarah Bates, a leading researcher into the condition, there is no connection to intelligence but generally people who are “more empathic” and “extroverted or gregarious” have better face recognition skills, as do those with lower levels of anxiety. Studies with identical twins have also suggested the trait may be hereditary, as has also been proved with face-blindness.
Perhaps more telling is that eye-tracking experiments have shown that those with strong facial recognition skills instinctively spend much more time looking at the nose area rather than the eyes. This may make it easier to recall distinctive facial characteristics which can be recognised later on.
Take the Super Recogniser test.
Of course, the easiest way to determine if you may be a Super Recogniser is to take a facial recognition test. There are a few different online options which will quickly score your ability to recall a remembered face. These tests are not rigorous enough to award you the official title of “Super Recogniser”, but a high score is highly indicative that you may have heightened facial recognition abilities.
CLICK HERE For the Harvard University and Dartmouth College Facial Recognition Test.
How can Super Recognisers use their talents?
Other than business networking and customer service, it may be hard to think how being a Super Recogniser could really be useful. But there is one field where the talent is very highly valued - the Police Force.
The London Metropolitan Police were the first police force to identify Super Recognisers and put their talents to good use - mainly in the scanning of CCTV footage.
Today, they have a dedicated team of over 140 officers with the skill.
Despite often watching grainy and dark footage, Super Recognisers can quickly identify known criminals caught on camera even if large parts of their faces are obscured. The 2011 summer riots in London showed for the first time the impact that Super Recognisers could have on enforcing law and order. Using CCTV footage, this group of officers were able to correctly identify known criminals involved in the riots leading directly to significant arrests and convictions. Despite disguises and face masks, many rioters with petrol bombs in hand could still be correctly identified by the team.
The Super Recognisers have also had great success in connecting together previously separate crimes by recognising those spotted in the vicinity of a crime scene. This profile in The New Statesman explains how Super Recognisers were able to take down a high profile thief responsible for over 40 crimes.
Being able to unite these crimes as the work of a single criminal greatly lengthens the sentences that judges can hand down and can bring closure to the large number of victims.
But in a world of smarter facial recognition software, how long will it be before the work of the police Super Recogniser is surpassed by technology? Perhaps longer than you think.
Currently, facial recognition software can be easily outperformed by just an average human and is only reliable in identifying stationery full faces in good lighting.
Being able to identify a partly obscured face in grainy footage based on someone you spotted on the street a few years ago is a exceptional human talent that will take some time to surpass.
Have you taken the Super Recogniser test? Or do you suspect you may possess Super Recogniser skills? Let us know in the comments section below.