I’m Going To Need Further Testing…

The good folks over at IFLScience recently posted an article about super-recognizers, i.e. people who have an uncanny ability to recognize faces. I told you about aphantasia before, and this is a sort of opposite of that. The way that one super-recognizer put it:

One of the people in the study told the researchers that she tried to hide her ability and “pretend that I don’t remember [people] … because it seems like I stalk them, or that they mean more to me than they do.”

According to those researching the subject, super-recognizers are very rare. I personally don’t think I am a super-recognizer, as I never felt anything like what the abovementioned person described. I do have excellent “mind’s eye” recall, but when it comes to faces, I am far more likely to recognize them but never be able to place them. Someone will look familiar, but it can be hard for me to remember who they actually are, let alone remember their names. When it comes to actors I’ve seen once before, I can spend hours with my eyes closed trying to remember their expressions in a certain scene, from there try to extrapolate what the scene was, and from there try to extrapolate what the movie was, before I remember where I had last seen them.

Still, there’s a test. I have to take the test.

I got 11/14. Considering that anything above 10 is considered potential super-recognizer material, and considering that I wasn’t really paying that much attention during the test, as I was sort of also watching an episode of Supernatural at the time, I’m beginning to doubt how serious this test actually is. I signed up to do the longer 45 minute test in future, as I don’t have time right now, which should in principle be a better indicator of super-recognizer status. While I wait on participating in a study on lucid dreaming, I might as well participate in this one, right?

In the meantime, anyone else interested in taking the shorter test I linked to above? What’s the consensus, too easy to get over 10/14? Or are super-recognizers more common than the researchers previously thought?


  1. blf says

    The London Met (police force) has an entire squad of “super recognizers”. This article is mostly about the best one in the squad, London Police ‘Super Recognizer’ Walks Beat With a Facebook of the Mind:

    LONDON – On a sticky August afternoon in 2011, as rioters looted and burned in the streets outside, a small number of police officers gathered in a room in North London.

    Projected on the wall was the blurry silhouette of a man with a black woolen hat pulled deep over his forehead and a red bandanna covering all but his eyes. Security cameras across the city had tracked the man setting fire to cars, stealing from shops, beating up passers-by, even hurling gasoline bombs.

    But he was always masked.

    “We need to identify this fellow,” the sergeant said. “He’s one of the worst.”

    At that moment, Gary Collins, a constable from the local gang unit, walked in. He took one look and said, “That’s Stephen Prince.”

    Friends call Constable Collins Rain Man or Yoda or simply The Oracle. But to Scotland Yard, London’s metropolitan police force, he is known as a “super recognizer.” He has a special gift of facial recall powers that enables him to match even low-quality and partial imagery to a face he has seen before, on the street or in a database and possibly years earlier. The last time he had come face to face with Mr Prince was during a fleeting encounter in 2005.

    […] Facial recognition software managed to identify one suspect of the 4,000 captured by security cameras during the London riots. Constable Collins identified 180.

    “Computers are no match for the super recognizers,” said Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, head of the Central Forensic Image Team at Scotland Yard and mastermind of the squad.
    Scotland Yard’s ever-expanding team of 152 super recognizers is made up of men and women from across the force who score at the top end of a facial recognition test originally devised at Harvard in 2009. Constable Collins, the star of the unit, is in the rarefied 1 percent range.
    Evolutionary psychologists are intrigued by super recognizers. Their facial recall is rarely matched by photographic memory in other parts of their lives. Constable Collins […], who studied design before he became a police officer, has identified over 800 suspects but cannot remember a shopping list. “I have to write that down,” he said.

    In addition to being able to recognize faces with an “off the charts” level of accuracy, Constable Collins (and presumably the others in squad) are also able to remember the names — as someone who has trouble remembering names (of anything, of anyone, of anyplace, of…) I am just as impressed by that ability.

  2. kestrel says

    OK, so I checked your link about aphantasia and personally I would not call that the opposite of super-recognizers… instead I would call prosopagnosia the opposite since this is the *inability* to recognize faces.

    I have prosopagnosia. I struggle to recognize my own face in a photo. I’ve met people who are super-recognizers; I always found the ability amazing, almost magical. I can’t even watch an episode of the X-Files and identify all the characters all the time. I mostly identify people by the way they talk or what they are wearing, so in a movie or TV show where they have silent action shots, or the character is wearing a different outfit but has not yet spoken, I usually have no idea who they are.

    I didn’t know super-recognizers were a named thing, so that is really cool to learn about that! Oh, and I got 6 out of 14. Probably at least partly due to luck. LOL.

  3. Musca Domestica says

    I got 10/14. The first ones were quite easy, then it got harder. Did it feel like they had “squished” the profile shots for you? I’m a bit like you, I often have to think hard to remember why I recognize someone.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Kevin Philips, in American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, notes that a certain member of that clan named George W. has an uncanny knack for remembering faces even while misunderperforming in most other mental capacities. More recent evidence shows this talent does not transfer to portrait painting.

    But I don’t think he would’ve made a very good street cop either.

  5. Kalia says

    13/14. My husband says that remembering faces is one of my mutant abilities. I didn’t realize it was actually a Thing. I definitely don’t have the ability to remember names though. I wish I did.

  6. suttkus says

    I got 9 correct. Which suggests the test isn’t that great. I’ve gone my entire life serious problems remembering people’s faces. I’m very much lousy at it. There are people I’ve known for years that I can’t recognize if I meet them “out-of-context”, i.e., in an unusual location for seeing them. There’s no way I should have gotten a nine.

  7. Nathan says

    It’s not just faces for what it’s worth. Apparently they can also recognize people by their gait. Handy for grainy petrol station footage of hold ups where the crim has full face covering.

  8. says

    1 of 14 but I already know I have prosopagnosia. I did think It’d be a little better since such a short time from picture to the next. I don’t recognise my mom until she speaks so…

  9. jacksprocket says

    2/14. That’s actually better than I expected, but it’s probably about what you’d get by random guessing (I wasn’t). I sometimes fail to recognise people I’ve known for years if they’ve done something as ordinary as changed their hairstyle.

  10. says

    12/14. The first few had a lot of time then it reduced greatly every few faces.

    I used to work as a security guard and received training in looking for such details. Speaking solely from my own experience, recognition isn’t so much remembering as paying attention. If you’re not focusing on or looking for specifics, you’re not going to remember them.

    Another memory aid from training and habit is writing things down immediately both to record detail and to jog memory. The longer the time between viewing and remembering, the less people remember. In the test above, there’s only about a second between seeing one face and a group; if it were a thirty second wait, most people would score much lower.

  11. Raucous Indignation says

    If that’s a screening test don’t get too excited. It’ll yield a good number of false positives, possibly many more false than true positives.

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