British Journal of Psychology (2019)
©2019 The Authors. British Journal of Psychology published by
John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society
Towards a ‘manifesto’ for super-recognizer
, Anna K. Bobak
* and David White
Applied Face Cognition Lab, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Department of Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Stirling, UK
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: email@example.com).
All authors contributed equally to this work.
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
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
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
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.
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).
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British Journal of Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12395
Received 14 May 2019; revised version received 21 May 2019
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