Several years ago I was listening to the radio, when a programme came on, discussing people who were super recognisers, meaning, that they possessed the ability to easily recognise faces. This was the first I had heard the term, and the more I listened to this man talking, the more it dawned on me, that he was describing what I had long thought of as ‘a quirk’ of mine: the way I could easily recognise people’s faces.
This ability probably began well before I realised I held this odd propensity for face recognition. I knew I was good at drawing faces, from the first portraits I ever did. These were pastel sketches of my children. And although I had drawn the figure since I was a teen, I hadn’t to this time honed in on the face. I was pleased at the likenesses I achieved, and everyone who saw them commented on this. I went on to sketch portrait commissions for several years, until I decided that I didn’t wish to be known as just a portrait artist. Anyway, I digress.
I began to be aware that I could recognise people, and the setting I had seen them in. These were people I had not personally known, and had existed at the periphery of my everyday life. A few, rather interesting ‘recognising’ occasions, are still rather salient in my mind. One involved the director of a play my daughter was in, far from where I had lived as a child. It was après show, and people were milling around congratulating the performers and director. I was watching this director, a man, when I could suddenly see him as I must have glimpsed him, walking across the quad at my old high school.
I would not have seen this chap’s face in thirty years. I called my daughter over, and said, ‘I know this might sound weird, but can you ask the director where he went to high school?’ Heretaunga College was the answer, the same school as me. I knew nothing about him, other than his face and the uniform he was wearing in my ‘flashback’. He wasn’t in my class, or even a friend of a friend. He certainly had no recollection of me. I was little spooked, but thought little of that night, until I found myself in another very similar situation.
It was ten year’s later, when I went to Teachers’ College as a ‘mature’ student. I was on ‘section’, which is when students are allocated a school to spend time in a classroom under the guidance of a resident teacher. This was a class with ten-year-olds, and a female teacher, a few years older than me. As I opened the classroom door and approached the teacher, the same sense of déjā vu, as I described above, overwhelmed me. This time, I couldn’t wait to ask her where she had gone to school, as I could see her in the quad of the high school I have just mentioned. Yes, same high school. Again, I had never met her, she was older, and we had no friends in common. But I still recognised her, but not vice versa. Even I was blown away with this coincidence. Still, I tucked it into my mind as a ‘quirk’ that I had, and got used to my husband telling others this story, occasionally.
And to bring this recognising people thing up-to-date, just a couple of months ago I sat with a group of strangers at a wine-tasters’ Christmas do (my husband is a member), and I found myself looking at the man down the end of the long table. I recognised his face! And his prominent eye teeth. But I did have to think about where I had known him from, for a bit. I knew it was something to do with art, and a while ago, so I posed him a couple of questions about classes he might have taken, and to where he had previously lived, before Auckland. When he said Palmerston North (where I had lived for many years), I immediately recalled where and when I’d met him – at the Manawatu Art Gallery, twenty-five years earlier.
Although I now kind of knew that I was a super recogniser (there have been many more instances like the above), I only came to prove it to myself a couple of days ago. Now, my husband knows well this ability of mine, so it didn’t surprise me when he sent me a link to http://www.superrecognisers.com. On this site, put up by the University of Greenwich, UK, is a lot about the research undertaken by Dr. Josh P Davis, on face recognition. On the home page it shows a Could you be a Super Recogniser test, which visitors to the site are encouraged to undergo. Why Not? I thought. It was purported to be fun.
There were 14 trials with two stages to each trial.
Stage one of each trial you would see a single face for a few seconds. Stage 2 you would see an array of faces. The task is to pick out the first face shown from the many faces in the array. After fourteen tests, I was able to see the score achieved. I got 11 out of 14 correct, and was informed that I was thought to be a super recogniser, and that I was welcome to partake in further tests, should I wish be part of the University research. This however, I have no wish to do, as the university is in the United Kingdom and I live in New Zealand. It was quite fun to do, and definitely an interesting website to visit. I urge you to take a look, and who knows? maybe it just might show you that you are a super recogniser too. Let me know.