Never forgetting a face might just be a super power

A trip to the mall can be a taxing experience when you see people you recognise everywhere, writes Greer Berry.

A trip to the mall can be a taxing experience when you see people you recognise everywhere, writes Greer Berry.

COLD COFFEE: As far as useless life skills go, the ability to remember people's faces has got to be up there. 

Sure, it might come in handy if I'm ever called as a witness in a police line-up, or maybe if I ever work in a role where face recognition would be key. But on a whole, it has generally just been this weird quirk I have always been really conscious of.

The problem exists when I bump into someone who maybe served me in a McDonald's drive-through two years ago and suddenly, I feel compelled to say, "we've met before, haven't we?".

Of course, this is almost always answered with "no, I don't recognise you" and me feeling miffed and like maybe I'm losing my mind.

The perils of being bad at remembering faces

Stubborn me will often refuse to let it go and will usually quickly ask them 384 questions to determine how our paths must have crossed at some stage.

This makes for casual walks around The Plaza an  introvert's nightmare as the voice inside my head provides a running monologue to match the people I walk past.

"Works in the jewellery shop around the corner… Once served you in Countdown… Works with your husband… Saw that person tagged in a picture on Facebook with your other friend last night… Is a mechanic who once changed your tyre three years ago…" and so on.

While I often thought this was just a side effect of living in regional New Zealand where everyone likes to think they know everyone, I have since realised it's not everyone's strength.

I often get frustrated with companions when out walking and I say "did you see him?", quickly followed by some severe neck-twisting action from the other person as they struggle to pick up what I'm putting down.

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It makes for a great skill at celebrity spotting, too. I once saw Pierce Brosnan in the stunning town of Sorrento, Italy, and recognised him instantly despite his hat and glasses.

It has astounded me that others can drift through day-to-day life and not be constantly bombarded with the faces of others and the inner dialogue that goes with it.

It wasn't until watching Sunday on TVNZ 1 on the weekend that I realised "super-recognisers" were even a thing.

The documentary piece followed a group of super-recognisers as they were put to the test through an Australian university to see just how well they could perform at recognising faces.

The results made for interesting reading, so at the end of the show there was a link to the study through the University of New South Wales.

Despite feeling rather foggy headed from a late night watching election coverage and dealing with two toddlers during daylight saving time changes, I completed the test.

The next day, still intrigued with this phenomenon, I found another test run by a university in the United Kingdom and took that as well.

The results showed that I do indeed appear to be among the realm of the super-recogniser – although there is not an official test to verify this.

Where studies have shown that "ordinary" people recognise about 20 per cent of faces they've caught a glimpse of, I was able to recognise between 64 per cent and 85 per cent.

As a psychology student, I had learnt a bit about those who have prosopagnosia, otherwise known as face-blindness, and their inability to recognise others' faces and sometimes even their own.

It's thought to effect around 1-2 per cent of the population, so it makes sense that at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who have the opposite brain action of prosopagnosics.

If only the link between super recognisers and the ability to retain names was a thing, because while I don't usually forget a face, I can be told a name only to forget it two seconds later.

Everyone has his or her quirks, despite how ordinary we sometimes feel, so I am now adding "super-recogniser" to my non-official CV, along with the rare feature of only being born with one wisdom tooth.

With those powers combined, which knows what feats I am capable of.  

 - Stuff


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