Super Facial Recognition: A New Reality for Police

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"Super recognizers" have the ability to expertly memorize and identify faces. Police in London are already using them to track suspects.
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Click on the 'Listen' button above to hear this interview.

You may have heard of prosopagnosics — people who suffer from "face blindness," in which they lack the ability to distinguish between human faces. But a 2009 study found that rather than lacking an ability that all others possess, prosopagnosics are simply at the low end of a broad spectrum of facial recognition ability.

At the other end were a group known as "super recognizers," whose ability to expertly memorize and identify faces makes them an asset to our society. London's Metropolitan Police Service has even created a special super recognizer unit to identify criminals caught on CCTV footage.

But there's more to this discovery than meets the eye, as the existence of a small group with unique abilities brings consequences and questions of how to treat these outliers. 

Richard Russell is a perceptual psychologist at Gettysburg College, and is one of the researchers who identified the scale of facial recognition ability, with super recognizers on the high end of it. Click on the 'Listen' button above to hear our full conversation with Professor Russell.