Is Your Freaky Ability To Remember Faces Really A Superpower?
I never forget a face.
"Oh, you don't remember me? That's cool..."
This happens to me all the time: I run into someone at a party and they introduce themselves. "Oh no, we've met before," I say, "at Katie's 2013 Christmas party" (or some similarly specific context). We may have only met for five minutes three years ago, but I'll remember their face clearly, as if it were yesterday.
People often talk about how awkward it is forget someone's name or to reintroduce yourself to a person you've already met. But we rarely talk about how creepy it feels to be on the other side of that interaction—for people like me who never forget a face (and seldom a name). Sometimes, if I can tell the other person is drawing a blank, I will pretend to not remember them too—not to save them from embarrassment, but to save myself from seeming like a stalker or an obsessive who thought about them way too much after we met. When I do reveal my cards, I want to scream "It's not just you! I remember everyone, okay?!"
There's a name for us.
I felt pretty alone in my secret creepiness until I recently came across an article in New York Magazine about people who can always spot a familiar face in a crowd. Immediately, I knew I had found my tribe. And there's a name for us too—researchers at Harvard and University College London coined the term "super-recognizer" to describe individuals who are "uncommonly skilled at face perception." As I kept reading, I found that not only was my secret not something to be ashamed of, it may even be somewhat of a superpower.
Researchers believe that facial recognition exists on a spectrum, with two percent of people being "face-blind" (aka prosopagnosiacs) on one end and two percent of people being "super-recognizers" on the other. Scientists are still working out exactly what this means in a larger context, but being better at facial recognition than 98% of the population could prove useful in certain situations—like identifying the correct criminal from a lineup.
Can you tell these white guys apart?
If you're having a "holy shit, that's me!" moment, there's a brief facial recognition quiz available in the original New York Magazine article. If you score highly on that, consider making time for the more intensive test created by researchers at the Centre for Face Processing Disorders. High scorers who leave their email address could be contacted to participate in further studies.
I took the longer test of 72 facial recognition questions—which my friend described as a "barrage of generic white dudes"— and scored 99%. Now that I've embraced my creep skills as a superpower, I guess all I have to do is sit back and wait for the FBI to recruit me. Who's creepy now, Denise Rogers brown hair, green eyes met at Joey's barbecue in 2011, huh?