This National Geographic article on people who fight crime by recognizing faces exceptionally well intrigued me. I read the New Yorker article (linked within) on prosopagnosia by Oliver Sacks and did the University of Greenwich facial recognition test. I recognized 5 out of 14 faces, so I’m not good at it, even though the faces are Caucasian and I grew up around mostly other Caucasians.
I’m curious about whether women would be easier to recognize than men are and whether women have roughly the same range of facial recognition ability as men do. I’m also curious if this ability changes with age. The military is largely young and male, and it seems like this ability would be really useful when fighting terrorism. I’m also curious if Mooshi thinks computers will ever be as good at recognizing people as super-recognizers are. Of course, I accept at face value the claim that the distribution of this talent in the population is largely Gaussian, like virtually every other human characteristic.
On a personal level, I read the article because I feel like I’m bad at remembering people and wondered just how bad I am. In the lab where I work, we wear bunny suits that cover your face. People have observed that colleagues notice women’s pregnancies earlier when they wear bunny suits, because of how their gait changes. In the lab, we recognize people by their gait rather than their face.
The article on Oliver Sacks made me think of my Dad and Mr. WCE, who can both remember how to get somewhere after a single visit. My Dad sometimes remembered which way to turn in a village in Germany nearly twenty years after his only visit. Mr. WCE carries a GPS now, but he hunted with topographic maps for his first couple decades in remote areas of Washington and Montana. To my knowledge, he’s never been lost. One of my friends has an uncanny ability to remember what people wear. She remembers my clothing, including shoes, and has occasionally made comments like, “You were wearing that shirt last time I saw you.” This talent amazes me, since in my world, the purpose of clothing is to keep other people from having to look at me naked. On an emotional level, I’ve enjoyed watching the development of Baby WCE’s face over the past months as I nurse her, from squished newborn to a face so like her father’s that my colleagues who saw her commented that she looks JUST like her Dad.
Are you a super-recognizer? Do any of my reactions trigger similar thoughts of your own?