Super-recognizers: From the lab to the world and back again

Br J Psychol. 2019 Aug;110(3):461-479. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12368. Epub 2019 Mar 20.


The recent discovery of individuals with superior face processing ability has sparked considerable interest amongst cognitive scientists and practitioners alike. These 'Super-recognizers' (SRs) offer clues to the underlying processes responsible for high levels of face processing ability. It has been claimed that they can help make societies safer and fairer by improving accuracy of facial identity processing in real-world tasks, for example when identifying suspects from Closed Circuit Television or performing security-critical identity verification tasks. Here, we argue that the current understanding of superior face processing does not justify widespread interest in SR deployment: There are relatively few studies of SRs and no evidence that high accuracy on laboratory-based tests translates directly to operational deployment. Using simulated data, we show that modest accuracy benefits can be expected from deploying SRs on the basis of ideally calibrated laboratory tests. Attaining more substantial benefits will require greater levels of communication and collaboration between psychologists and practitioners. We propose that translational and reverse-translational approaches to knowledge development are critical to advance current understanding and to enable optimal deployment of SRs in society. Finally, we outline knowledge gaps that this approach can help address.

Keywords: face identification; face matching; face processing; face recognition; super-recognizers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavioral Research
  • Communication
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Facial Expression
  • Facial Recognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Neuropsychological Tests