Face recognition by Metropolitan Police super-recognisers

Robertson, David J. and Noyes, Eilidh and Dowsett, Andrew J. and Jenkins, Rob and Burton, A. Mike (2016) Face recognition by Metropolitan Police super-recognisers. PLOS One, 11 (2). pp. 1-8. e0150036. ISSN 1932-6203

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    Abstract

    Face recognition is used to prove identity across a wide variety of settings. Despite this, research consistently shows that people are typically rather poor at matching faces to photos. Some professional groups, such as police and passport officers, have been shown to perform just as poorly as the general public on standard tests of face recognition. However, face recognition skills are subject to wide individual variation, with some people showing exceptional ability—a group that has come to be known as 'super-recognisers'. The Metropolitan Police Force (London) recruits 'super-recognisers' from within its ranks, for deployment on various identification tasks. Here we test four working super-recognisers from within this police force, and ask whether they are really able to perform at levels above control groups. We consistently find that the police 'super-recognisers' perform at well above normal levels on tests of unfamiliar and familiar face matching, with degraded as well as high quality images. Recruiting employees with high levels of skill in these areas, and allocating them to relevant tasks, is an efficient way to overcome some of the known difficulties associated with unfamiliar face recognition.