August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
Broadly Superior: Many, but not all, visual and non-visual abilities are strong in face super-recognizers
Author Affiliations
  • Sarah Cohan
    Psychology, Harvard University
  • Ken Nakayama
    Psychology, Harvard University
  • Brad Duchaine
    Psychology, Dartmouth College
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 74. doi:
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      Sarah Cohan, Ken Nakayama, Brad Duchaine; Broadly Superior: Many, but not all, visual and non-visual abilities are strong in face super-recognizers . Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):74. doi:

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Super-recognizers have extraordinarily good face identity recognition, and their abilities have proven useful for law enforcement (Davis, Jansari, & Lander, 2013). Previous work has demonstrated that they excel with face identity perception judgments (Russell et al., 2009) as well as discrimination of faces based on shape and surface reflectance (Russell et al., 2012). However little is known about their broader cognitive and perceptual abilities. As a result, the scope of their "super powers" is unknown. To investigate this issue, we tested a group of 17 super-recognizers with the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI) and a battery of tests assessing 1) perception of face expression, age, and sex, 2) sequential matching of objects and bodies, 3) recognition of cars, common objects, and abstract art, 4) memory for unfamiliar music, environmental sounds, and word pairs, 5) digit span, 6) multiple object tracking, and 7) change detection. On the four WASI subtests, the z-scores for the super-recognizers were .33 (Block Design), .59 (Vocabulary), .26 (Matrix Reasoning), and .39 (Similarities), so their general intelligence is not extraordinary. In contrast, aside from a few tests, their average scores on the battery were quite strong. Average z-scores on nearly all the face tests were greater than 1.0, as were their scores for car and abstract art memory. Surprisingly, some non-visual abilities were also well above average: the average z-score was nearly 1.5 for the verbal paired associates test and 0.9 for digit span. Overall, these results demonstrate super-recognizers have numerous perceptual and cognitive strengths. However their normal scores on the WASI and several other tests show that their abilities are not uniformly excellent and indicate that their many strengths do not result from general test-taking skills. The factors generating the variability in their abilities are unclear and present a challenge for future research with super-recognizers.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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