What’s so ‘super’ about super recognisers?

Harrison, Virginia; Ness, Hayley and Skelton, Faye (2016). What’s so ‘super’ about super recognisers? In: European Association of Psychology and Law Conference (EAPL 2016), 5-8 Jul 2016, Toulouse, France.


Super-recognisers are often treated in the face recognition literature as if they are a homogeneous group, whose abilities are analogous and have the same theoretical underpinnings. However, we know that in the normal population there are huge variations in people’s abilities to process faces. For example, while some people display better face matching abilities than face recognition skills, others may show the opposite. Additionally, there are considerable individual differences in people’s ability to process the different types of information contained within a face (e.g. Ness, 2012). For example, while some people are more featural processors (i.e. they rely heavily on processing the individual component features of the face in a relatively piecemeal fashion), others are more configural processors (i.e. they rely more on the spatial relationships between key facial features, processing the face more holistically).

Using tests of face recognition and matching, as well as standardised tasks used to establish featural and configural processing abilities, we investigated how a small group of super-recognisers in the Metropolitan Police varied in their abilities to process faces. The results revealed that super-recognisers are a heterogenous group, with different strengths and weaknesses. We discuss how identifying individuals’ strengths may allow super-recognisers within the police force to be matched up to specific job roles which may be best suited to their capabilities.

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