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June 24, 2009

Some people really do have extraordinary face-remembering abilities.


Unforgettable faces. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People with a disorder called prosopagnosia can’t recognize faces, sometimes even their own. But what about the opposite? Prosopagnosia researcher Richard Russell of Harvard University had heard from people who said they were abnormally good at remembering faces. Recently, he and his colleagues put four of them through several face-recognition tests, and they scored at genius levels. The volunteers said they don’t always tell people that they recognize them.

RICHARD RUSSELL (Harvard University):
It makes people think that maybe they’re stalking them, or that they have a greater interest in them than they actually do.

Although it’s a small study, it suggests that face recognition ability may vary a lot more than we thought. And Russell says evaluating that ability could sometimes be useful – for instance, in judging the credibility of an eyewitness. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.