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Towards a 'manifesto' for super-recognizer research

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Abstract

This article provides a response to five excellent commentaries on our article ‘Super‐recognizers: From the lab to the world and back again’. Specifically, the response summarizes commonalities between these commentaries. Based on this consensus, we propose a flexible framework for the assessment of superior face recognition and outline guiding principles to advance future work in the field.
British Journal of Psychology (2019)
©2019 The Authors. British Journal of Psychology published by
John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society
www.wileyonlinelibrary.com
Response article
Towards a ‘manifesto’ for super-recognizer
research
Meike Ramon
1,a
, Anna K. Bobak
2,a
* and David White
3,a
1
Applied Face Cognition Lab, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
2
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
3
School of Psychology, UNSW Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
This article provides a response to five excellent commentaries on our article ‘Super-
recognizers: From the lab to the world and back again’. Specifically, the response
summarizes commonalities between these commentaries. Based on this consensus, we
propose a flexible framework for the assessment of superior face recognition and outline
guiding principles to advance future work in the field.
Bridging the gap between the laboratory and the world
Our target article was intended to encourage greater synergy between face recognition
researchers and practitioners to develop knowledge of super-recognizers (SRs) in the
future. This is critical because the application of knowledge in this area has preceded
development of a solid theoretical knowledge base. Collaboration between practitioners
and academics is vital to redress this and in order to implement and evaluate procedures to
meet current and future real-world demands (Ramon, Bobak, & White, 2019).
Twelve respected researchers took the time to respond thoughtfully to our article, and
to extend the ideas we put forward. Together, these responses reflect the vast interest in
this topic over recent years and the positive steps that are already underway to address the
gap between the laboratory and the world (e.g., in test development; Robertson &
Bindemann, 2019; Bate, Portch, Mestry, & Bennetts, 2019; Devue, 2019), including the
emergence of collaborative groups comprising academics and experienced face
identification practitioners (Moreton, Pike, & Havard, 2019).
Substantial agreement emerged on the following key points. First, there is broad
consensus that caution should be exercised in deploying SRs to perform real-world tasks,
given the limited level of scientific understanding, and paucity of data on validity and
reliability of selection tasks for diverse real-world deployments. Second, others shared our
specific concerns that the quasi-scientific claims made by commercial organizations and in
popular media are likely to exacerbate this problem (Bate et al., 2019; Robertson &
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
*Correspondence should be addressed to Anna K. Bobak, Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling’, Cottrell
Building, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK (email: annakbobak@gmail.com).
a
All authors contributed equally to this work.
DOI:10.1111/bjop.12411
1
Bindemann, 2019). Third, there is an unequivocal agreement that closer collaboration
between practitioners and academics is required to establish and ensure rigorous and
reliable testing practices.
While it is not possible to give all points raised in the commentaries the full
consideration that they deserve here, our hope is that these aspects will be
expanded upon in future work. In the following sections, we attempt to draw out
some key issues and areas of overlap, in an attempt to map out a potential direction
for this research effort in the future. Our aim is to work towards a framework and
set of common goals whilst preserving the healthy, diverse approach that has
characterized research in this area.
The need for a flexible and efficient framework to assess face processing
abilities
The opinions voiced in this scientific exchange indicate that aiming for a standard battery
of specific tests to identify SRs would be a suboptimal approach. The main reason is that
any such potential agreement is insufficiently flexible to accommodate the continuously
changing demands of real-world challenges that practitioners are confronted with.
Therefore, the more realistic and pragmatic approach is to conceptualize a framework for
assessing discrete and distinguishable cognitive (sub)processes (Bate et al., 2019; Devue,
2019; Ramon et al., 2019), as well as clearly defined tasks of interest (Devue, 2019;
Moreton et al., 2019; Ramon et al., 2019). Ideally, this framework would be adopted by
researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines interested in identifying
individuals with superior processing abilities be it for deployment or fundamental
research purposes.
On a practical level, this framework should consider the nature of superior
processing that is aimed to be identified (face vs. person identity processing? Bate
et al., 2019), as well as the specific roles which to-be-selected individuals are
expected to perform (e.g., passport control or crowd search? Moreton et al., 2019;
Ramon et al., 2019). The framework should also incorporate guidelines to ensure
selection of experimental procedures most suitable for assessing specific roles and
identifying abilities that are critical in that specific operational context. These
procedures for assessment must (1) incorporate multiple tests and measures within
these tests (e.g., accuracy and reaction time (see Stacchi, Huguenin-Elie, Caldara, &
Ramon, 2019), and (2) ensure that individuals are identified accurately and reliably
as SRs (Bate et al., 2019; Young & Noyes, 2019; cf. Wilmer et al., 2012). That is, all
adopted procedures require sufficient psychometric calibration to meet the criterion
of valid and reliable diagnostic sensitivity (see also Bate et al., 2018; Bobak,
Pampoulov, & Bate, 2016; Stacchi, et al., 2019).
The practices developed under this framework will ultimately serve to characterize the
boundaries and biases associated with superior ability, in order to best match individuals
with the highly varied roles and contexts that characterize real-world tasks (Bate et al.,
2019; Devue, 2019). To the extent that the tests are reliable, this approach can also
provide theoretical insights into associated and dissociated abilities within the person
perception system (Young & Noyes, 2019; cf. Bate et al., 2018). Developing such a
framework in the years ahead will inevitably rely on scientists and practitioners’
willingness to communicate and share knowledge and practices.
2Meike Ramon et al.
Setting knowledge free
Researchers and practitioners may, in principle, agree on conceptual aspects and specific
working frameworks, which, however, may not always translate into working practices.
To ensure progress in this field, we propose the following guidelines, with the common
goal of making the work more transparent and replicable. These recommendations to
academics, practitioners and other end-users, and the government are neither exhaustive,
nor provided in order of importance, but are offered as a guide for future practice in
theoretical and applied SR research.
Firstly, the research into superior face processing abilities should proceed via a long-
term collective goal of expanding the body of knowledge and improving practices.We
echo the view that if individuals with exceptional face or person recognition skills are,
indeed, superior to typical perceivers, they should be deployed in professions where their
abilities may help make societies fairer and safer (cf, Yo ung & Noyes, 2019). This should be
in service of improving scientific understanding and lead to the betterment of society by
achieving measurable practical gains in, for example, policing, rather than serving private
interests. Practitioners and scientists have a shared power to achieve such goals and, as
pointed out by our peers, should work together to avoid filling this vacuum by private
enterprise whose prerogative is a financial gain (see also Robertson & Bindemann, 2019).
This endeavour can be accomplished through close collaboration between scientists
and practitioners (see also Moreton et al., 2019). Working groups and consortiums with
academics and practitioners and other end-users foster collaborations which are at the
core of progress of this field. Such knowledge exchange is critical for developing of valid
and reliable tasks that reflect cognitive processes employed in real-world assignments
(Devue, 2019; Young & Noyes, 2019). This, in turn, would allow researchers to identify
the best people for various roles ‘in the wild’. Additionally, multilaboratory collaborations
involving large groups of individuals with superior processing skills can help identify
patterns and provide a more detailed understanding of individual differences, which is
currently lacking.
Such projects must not be constrained by the boundaries of specific laboratories or
research collaborations, but benefit from sharing of knowledge, procedures, and data.
Given the paucity of SRs, it is pertinent that detailed information concerning procedures is
accessible for researchers outside a specific laboratory. With adherence to local data
protection laws and practices, individual cases and procedures should be scrutinized by
researchers and practitioners worldwide. Such collaborative work should always be
open to critique; the field of superior face processing should represent no exception.
Academic peer review plays an important role in controlling the quality of science and can
provide an objective means of quality control in non-academic settings.
Finally, we acknowledge that full transparency in the context of collaborations with
non-academic partners is not always feasible. For example, some research contracts in
police and security agencies often hold complete discretion over the publication and
dissemination of results. This is a significant challenge for researchers that aim to improve
knowledge of SRs through the reverse-translational approach we argue for in our target
article. Nevertheless, scientists have a shared responsibility to act as advocates for ‘setting
knowledge free’: our actions can help ensure that (potential) research partners appreciate
that the ‘real world’ is not the end-point of the knowledge cycle. We hope that the
framework outlined in our initial proposal, as well as our colleagues’ independent calls for
transparency, can help researchers, practitioners, and other end-users to make this
approach a ‘gold standard’ in the years ahead.
Towards a manifesto for super-recognizer research 3
The science of SRs will have a substantial impact on the way that facial identity
information is processed in organizations of the future. Our research decisions and the
way we communicate our findings will all have tangible effects on a variety of critical legal,
quasi-legal, and security processes. For now, this collection of articles appears to be a
useful starting point for academics and practitioners to work towards the common goals
that have been identified here.
Acknowledgements
MR is supported by a Swiss National Science Foundation PRIMA (Promoting Women in
Academia) grant (PR00P1_179872). This work was supported by an Australian Research
Council Linkage Project (LP160101523) and a UNSW Scientia Fellowship to DW. AB is funded
by an EPSRC Programme Grant number (EP/N007743/1).
References
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Received 14 May 2019; revised version received 21 May 2019
4Meike Ramon et al.
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... Theoretically, this work has led to face processing being considered as a spectrum rather than supporting a dichotomous distinction between normal and dysfunctional abilities (Russell, Duchaine, & Nakayama, 2009). From a practical perspective, investigation of the abilities of SRs can provide valuable information for the optimization of automatic face processing or deployment of personnel in security-critical settings (Ramon et al., 2019a(Ramon et al., , 2019b, such as criminal investigation (Ramon, 2018a). ...
... Addressing this issue requires consideration of aspects that have been expressed by scientists and practitioners alike (cf. Moreton, Pike, & Havard, 2019;Ramon et al., 2019aRamon et al., , 2019bRobertson & Bindemann, 2019). Two major factors are: 1) assessment of different subprocesses or processing levels in face cognition (Ramon et al., 2019a;Ramon & Gobbini, 2018); and 2) the degree to which this process-dependent behavior observed experimentally translates into extremely varied and constantly changing applied settings (cf. ...
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The Cambridge Face Memory Test Long Form (CFMT+) and Cambridge Face Perception Test (CFPT) are typically used to assess the face processing ability of individuals who believe they have superior face recognition skills. Previous large-scale studies have presented norms for the CFPT but not the CFMT+. However, previous research has also highlighted the necessity for establishing country-specific norms for these tests, indicating that norming data is required for both tests using young British adults. The current study addressed this issue in 254 British participants. In addition to providing the first norm for performance on the CFMT+ in any large sample, we also report the first UK specific cut-off for superior face recognition on the CFPT. Further analyses identified a small advantage for females on both tests, and only small associations between objective face recognition skills and self-report measures. A secondary aim of the study was to examine the relationship between trait or social anxiety and face processing ability, and no associations were noted. The implications of these findings for the classification of super-recognisers are discussed.
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How do humans process unfamiliar faces, and how can we reliably identify individuals that are most proficient at it? Motivated by its relevance in applied contexts, much empirical work has sought to answer these questions. Controlled laboratory tests have been developed to understand the contribution of different variables and inter-individual differences. However, such face processing tests involving stimuli derived from ideal conditions, or manipulations and tasks that are not representative of real life, may lack ecological validity. This crucial consideration is often overlooked when laboratory tests are used to predict real-life proficiency. The present study followed the rationale that traditionally used controlled tests should be paired with more realistic, and ecologically meaningful ones – in terms of the stimuli and tasks performed. Testing large and heterogenous samples, we standardized two underused tests of facial identity matching: the Yearbook Test (YBT; Bruck et al., 1991) and the Face Identity Card Sorting Test (FICST; Jenkins et al., 2011). These procedurally simple tests mimic real-life challenges in face perception, as they assess unfamiliar facial identity matching across superficial image changes, or substantial age-related change in appearance. Beyond providing normative data, we describe how performance measured by these tests relates to that observed on more commonly used tests of face recognition (CFMT+; Russell et al., 2009) and perception (EFCT; PICT; White et al., 2015). Our findings suggest that (i) the YBT and FICST are easy-to-use, preferable alternatives to pairwise face matching tasks, which are prone to speed-accuracy trade-offs; (ii) challenging and ecologically valid tests should complement highly controlled measures when aiming to identify individuals with superior face processing abilities for real-life purposes.