Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Some People Really 'Never Forget A Face:' Understanding Extraordinary Face Recognition Ability

Date:
May 20, 2009
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Psychologists have discovered that some people have an extraordinary ability to recognize faces, a group that they call "super-recognizers," who can easily recognize someone they met in passing, even many years later. The findings imply that face recognition may vary more than previously understood, and may be on a spectrum, with "super-recognizers" at the high end, and those with face blindness, who have extraordinary difficulty recognizing a face, at the low end.

Some people say they never forget a face, a claim now bolstered by psychologists at Harvard University who've discovered a group they call "super-recognizers": those who can easily recognize someone they met in passing, even many years later.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jacob Wackerhausen

Some people say they never forget a face, a claim now bolstered by psychologists at Harvard University who've discovered a group they call "super-recognizers": those who can easily recognize someone they met in passing, even many years later.

The new study suggests that skill in facial recognition might vary widely among humans. Previous research has identified as much as 2 percent of the population as having "face-blindness," or prosopagnosia, a condition characterized by great difficulty in recognizing faces. For the first time, this new research shows that others excel in face recognition, indicating that the trait could be on a spectrum, with prosopagnosics on the low end and super-recognizers at the high end.

The research is published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, and was led by Richard Russell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Harvard, with co-authors Ken Nakayama, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology at Harvard, and Brad Duchaine of the University College London.

The research involved administering standardized face recognition tests. The super-recognizers scored far above average on these tests—higher than any of the normal control subjects.

"There has been a default assumption that there is either normal face recognition, or there is disordered face recognition," says Russell. "This suggests that's not the case, that there is actually a very wide range of ability. It suggests a different model—a different way of thinking about face recognition ability, and possibly even other aspects of perception, in terms of a spectrum of abilities, rather than there being normal and disordered ability."

Super-recognizers report that they recognize other people far more often than they are recognized. For this reason, says Russell, they often compensate by pretending not to recognize someone they met in passing, so as to avoid appearing to attribute undue importance to a fleeting encounter.

"Super-recognizers have these extreme stories of recognizing people," says Russell. "They recognize a person who was shopping in the same store with them two months ago, for example, even if they didn't speak to the person. It doesn't have to be a significant interaction; they really stand out in terms of their ability to remember the people who were actually less significant."

One woman in the study said she had identified another woman on the street who served as her as a waitress five years earlier in a different city. Critically, she was able to confirm that the other woman had in fact been a waitress in the different city. Often, super-recognizers are able to recognize another person despite significant changes in appearance, such as aging or a different hair color.

If face recognition abilities do vary, testing for this may be important for assessing eyewitness testimony, or for interviewing for some jobs, such as security or those checking identification.

Russell theorizes that super-recognizers and those with face-blindness may only be distinguishable today because our communities differ from how they existed thousands of years ago.

"Until recently, most humans lived in much smaller communities, with many fewer people interacting on a regular basis within a group," says Russell. "It may be a fairly new phenomenon that there's even a need to recognize large numbers of people."

The research was funded by the U.S. National Eye Institute and the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Some People Really 'Never Forget A Face:' Understanding Extraordinary Face Recognition Ability." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519172204.htm>.
Harvard University. (2009, May 20). Some People Really 'Never Forget A Face:' Understanding Extraordinary Face Recognition Ability. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519172204.htm
Harvard University. "Some People Really 'Never Forget A Face:' Understanding Extraordinary Face Recognition Ability." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519172204.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins