Are you a face super-recogniser? Take this test and find out

A tiny proportion of people in the world are uncannily good at recognising photos. Are you one of them?

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Some people never forget a face. In many cases, this actually makes them more effective at picking out police suspects than computer algorithms. As Professor Raouf Hamzaoui told the BBC last year, “In ideal conditions, computers can outperform people, going through millions of possibilities in seconds. But with low quality pictures, typical of CCTV, where there is darkness, facial coverings, blurring and so on, the software struggles and the human does better. And this is with average people, rather than super-recognisers."

Wait, “super-recognisers”? Super-recognisers are those who are incredibly adept at identifying and memorising facial characteristics, and for whom “never forget a face” isn’t just an expression, but part of their DNA. They’re a tiny proportion of the population (less than 1%, estimates suggest), and understandably their skills are in popular demand with police forces around the world.

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The Metropolitan Police has around 150 of them, and wants more. As I’ve written about before, eyewitness testimony is extremely weak unless you know the person you’re identifying, and super-recognisers are a way around this, with even a heavily disguised London rioter being identified.

Are you blessed with the ability? Could you be days away from an exciting new career as a police super-recogniser? Josh P Davis, a psychology professor at the University of Greenwich has developed a five minute online test for people who want to see how they stack up.

Take the super-recogniser test here.

I actually scored 9 out of 14 - one point shy of the super-recogniser cut-off, but a lot of my answers were obviously guesses, and being able to pick one person out of ten possible answers is clearly a world away from actually picking people out of CCTV. Even if I scored ten or more, as Davis says in the introduction, more tests would be required (and he welcomes more volunteers).

But if you found that stupidly easy and got the full 14/14, you may find your genetic good luck something of a curse. As professor Brad Duchaine told Yahoo Health: “Many super recognizers find their recognition is so good that have to refrain from letting people they only know in passing that they recognize them, because it comes off as strange.” Probably best to stick to the psychological middle ground: not seeming creepy by remembering everyone, but recalling enough people not to seem rude.

Images: Josbert Lonnee and akbarsyah used under Creative Commons

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