This involves seeing faces as a whole, taking account of all of the facial features and the spacing between them. Interestingly, all of the super recogniser participants displayed heightened configural processing on at least one task. We also monitored their eye movements as they looked at faces. While control participants mostly looked at the eyes, super recognisers spent more time looking at the nose. It is possible that this more central viewing position promotes the optimal configural processing strategy.
What makes a super recogniser?
We also examined the potential causes of super recognition, finding no evidence that these people have higher intelligence levels or excel at all visual or memory tasks. In fact, their superior ability is restricted only to the recognition of faces. It currently seems that some people are simply predisposed to developing this skill, and there is increasing evidence that face recognition skills are heritable. Twin studies report a higher correlation in face recognition ability for identical compared to non-identical twins, and disorders of face recognition – prosopagnosia or face blindness are known to run in families, too.
Another important finding is that some people seem to be superior at specific face recognition tasks. For instance, while some of our super recognisers were excellent at remembering faces, others had typical face memory skills yet were extremely good at deciding whether pairs of simultaneously presented faces were of the same person or two different people. A further skill that has not yet been tested is the “spotting” of faces in a crowd. Many super recognisers claim to be particularly proficient at this task, and it is possible that some people may be “super spotters” yet not excel at other tasks.