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‘Super-recognizers’ who never forget a face do exist

Washington, May 20 (ANI): Harvard University researchers have bolstered the claim that “super-recognizers”—people with extraordinary face recognition ability who never forget someone they met in the past—do exist.

Richard Russell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Harvard, has found in a study that skill in facial recognition may vary widely among humans.

Studies conducted in the past have shown that about 2 per cent of the population suffers from “face-blindness”, or prosopagnosia, a condition characterized by great difficulty in recognizing faces.

This is the first time that a study has shown 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 researchers involved standardized face recognition tests in their study, and found the super-recognizers to score far 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. 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,” says Russell.

The researchers say that the super-recognizers reported being able to recognize other people far more often than they are recognized.

Russell says that it is for this reason that 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. 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,” says Russell.

Given that one woman in the study was able to prove that she had identified another woman on the street who served as a waitress five years earlier in a different city, the researchers came to the conclusion that super-recognizers are able to recognize another person despite significant changes in appearance, such as aging or a different hair color.

The researchers say that studying differences in people’s ability to recognize faces may be important for assessing eyewitness testimony, or for interviewing for some jobs, such as security or those checking identification.

A research paper on the study has been published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. (ANI)

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