Have you ever recognized someone in a film only to check them out on IMDB and realize they were once an extra in some obscure film you watched years ago? If so, you could be a super-recognizer.
Super-recognizers are exceptionally skilled in picking up on faces they have seen before. The encounters they recall are unremarkable and fleeting, making it all the more impressive that in an instant they can pick up on a face decades later. The skill is thought to be held by less than 2 percent of the world’s population, and new research published in the journal PLOS One has confirmed that a freely available UNSW Face Test that has been around since 2017 is the world's best platform for sorting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to super-recognizers.
The new study into this preexisting tool ruled that the UNSW Face Test is the best testing platform for providing precise results as well as ranking and comparing the abilities of super-recognizers. The test itself is extremely challenging, meaning that many who back themselves as the ultimate super-recognizer find themselves ranking at the lower end of the scale. To date, nobody has been able to score 100 percent on the test, which has processed 31,000 participants in the last three years. Using the UNSW Face Test, you’re considered a super recognizer if you clock a score of above 70 percent. So far, the results show that most of us score between just 50 and 60 percent while the highest score came in at 97 percent, meaning the world’s best super recognizer could still be out there.
“We made it this difficult so that it's not too easy for the very best super-recognisers,” said Dr James Dunn, a researcher on the study, in a statement. "When super-recognisers do the traditional face tests, they max out at 100 percent which means it's difficult for us to differentiate between the very good and the exceptional.
"If somebody came to us thinking they may be a super-recogniser, we would start them on the UNSW Face Test and then get them to do further confirmatory tests and say, 'you need to do well on all of them for us to be confident that you're a super recogniser'."
It was once thought this skill could be learned, but new evidence indicates that super-recognizers may be coded for in their DNA with only a very small proportion of the population exhibiting the genetic predisposition to score 100 percent on the UNSW Face Test.
The research is of such interest for two reasons. Firstly, the brain function of confirmed super-recognizers can be studied to understand what’s happening when we recall familiar faces and fail to recognize new ones. Secondly, in an era where facial recognition is being talked about perhaps more than ever before, such skills are highly coveted within the tech industry.
"We are starting to see industries looking within and outside of their organisations for super-recognisers to work in specialised face identification roles," Dr Dunn says. "This can include police but may also include government and commercial bodies like immigration, intelligence agencies, security agencies, financial institutions, even casinos."