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Remembering Faces Forever?

Imagine recognizing a total stranger you passed on the street months, or even years, after you first saw them. Does such a person really exist?

Crowd of people in street

Photo: caribb (flickr)

Some people, called "super recognizers," can recognize people they have seen one time months or even years earlier

Are you good at remembering faces? How about the face of a stranger you passed in the supermarket aisle three months ago? Or the face of a waitress who served you dinner last year?

That may seem unlikely, but some people are what’s known as “super recognizers.” They can instantly recognize faces they glimpsed months and even years ago.

Prosopagnosia

This is interesting because it suggests that face recognition exists on a broad spectrum. Previously, scientists thought that people fall into two basic categories.

Most people have more or less the same, average ability for recalling faces. But around two percent of people can hardly recognize faces at all–a condition called prosopagnosia.

The discovery that a small percentage of people are super recognizers means the overall spectrum of face recognition is more expansive than we knew. While relatively few people fall into either extreme, most of us exist somewhere in between. But that doesn’t mean that most people are equally competent at recognizing faces.

Facial Recall

Without being a super recognizer, Joe may exist somewhere in the neighborhood of strong facial recall. Whereas Jane’s talent for remembering faces might lie closer to the prosopagnosia end of things.

For the most part, where you fall on the face recognition spectrum may not matter. But if, say, you’re an eyewitness in a murder trial, then your relative ability for recalling faces might become a pivotal fact in the trial.

Further Reading

To learn more about remembering faces, check out this article from LiveScience.

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