May 20, 2009
Super-Recognizers Great At Facial Recognition

These people should be paid to scan crowds for criminals.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 19, 2009 – 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.

Imagine employing super-recognizers to watch for criminals in train stations, airports, and other places where large numbers of people pass. These are the people we should want to look at most wanted lists of criminals.

If you could choose among cognitive traits to give to offspring would you place super-recognizer capability high or low in a list of priorities?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 May 20 11:26 PM  Brain Innate

Lono said at May 21, 2009 8:40 AM:

Yes Randall - that is what we need in our country - living CCTV camera's so we can be a Soft Totalitarian country just like England...


Now this could be useful for spies I suppose - or even perhaps for primate specialized biologists - since to me all those dang monkeys look alike...

But it seems fairly far feteched that we would replace automation with Humans who easily suffer from fatgue and who can be in far fewer places.

It really concerns me that many Americans are still so oblivious to our history of False Flag attacks and our politicians frequent historical use of the Problem->Reaction->Solution paradigm.

As our Founding Father's were always quick to point out - our own Govt. - and not Foreign Powers - is often the most dangerous of enemies to a Free People - perhaps we can sick these mutates to monitor THEIR activites FULL TIME!

(Certainly a better use of our tax dollars then many current applications)

Randall Parker said at May 21, 2009 7:04 PM:


What are you talking about? Are you saying FBI wanted fugitives are not dangerous criminals? False Flag attacks? What does that have to do with arresting wanted criminals?

dave.s. said at May 22, 2009 6:47 AM:

The Romans knew about this! Or, at least, I read in a book once a long time ago... that one of the highest-priced kinds of slaves in Rome was the guys who stood behind the Senators and whispered in their ears the names of the people approaching them, so the Senator could seem to recognize them.

Lono said at May 26, 2009 10:48 AM:


I could not help but be appalled at what your first thoughts of applications were for these unique individuals...

By your reasoning why not just have everyone check in by Two-Way Telescreen with the "Homeland" every morning? I mean how did we possibly fight crime before we scrapped the Constitution??

If you have done nothing wrong or have nothing to hide why would care?

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin (1759)

Randall Parker said at May 26, 2009 6:08 PM:


You think that the police are trying to track down and jail political opponents of the current government?

Lono said at May 27, 2009 8:33 AM:


Absolutely I think that is the road the U.S. is going with things like the Dept. of Homeland Security, the Patriot Acts I and II, and the new Homegrown Terrorist Act.

Obamas recent push for powers of "unlimited detention" on US Soil certainly doesn't contradict this theory.

It is main stream news that Great Britian is now a "soft" Totallitarian State - which has already locked up people for unpopular speech.

I just am disheartened to see such authoritarianism encouraged on what is essentially a scientific blog. I'm sure if we put a little more thought into it we could find a more useful, scientific, application for these indiviuals.

chris said at November 4, 2010 9:48 PM:

I'm up for it, I need a job. I'm a super recognizer.

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