OK, so it’s not quite X-ray vision, but science has unearthed a slightly more prosaic super-power – super-recognisers are those rare folk with an excellent memory for faces. [image by Valeyoshino]
Super-recognizers report that they recognize other people far more often than they are recognized. For this reason, says Russell, they often compensate by pretending not to recognize someone they met in passing, so as to avoid appearing to attribute undue importance to a fleeting encounter.
“Super-recognizers have these extreme stories of recognizing people,” says Russell. “They recognize a person who was shopping in the same store with them two months ago, for example, even if they didn’t speak to the person. It doesn’t have to be a significant interaction; they really stand out in terms of their ability to remember the people who were actually less significant.”
One woman in the study said she had identified another woman on the street who served as her as a waitress five years earlier in a different city. Critically, she was able to confirm that the other woman had in fact been a waitress in the different city. Often, super-recognizers are able to recognize another person despite significant changes in appearance, such as aging or a different hair color.
I’m better with faces than I am with names, though not to that extent! Worse luck for me, as Randall Parker of FuturePundit suggests an employment fast-track for super-recognisers:
Imagine employing super-recognizers to watch for criminals in train stations, airports, and other places where large numbers of people pass. These are the people we should want to look at most wanted lists of criminals.
Yeah – let’s replace those horrible cameras with fallible meat-based undercover snooper agents! After all, we can always be sure the people on the most-wanted lists deserve to be there, right?