May 21, 2009
Face recognition ability varies widely
U.S. and British psychologists say some people remember a face years later --
super-recognizers -- and some don't remember a face from yesterday.
The study, published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, found the super-recognizers are one end of a spectrum of face recognition ability that also includes the lack of ability to recognize faces, or
Researchers led by Richard Russell of Boston's Harvard University administered standardized face recognition tests to the study participants. 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, Russell said in a statement.
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.
Russell says some super-recognizers reported pretending not to recognize someone so as not to bring undue importance to a fleeting encounter. One woman was able to confirm she had identified another woman on the street who had served as her waitress -- five years earlier in a different city.