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Mechanisms of superior face recognition

Applicant Ramon Meike
Number 179872
Funding scheme PRIMA
Research institution Département de Psychologie Université de Fribourg
Institution of higher education University of Fribourg - FR
Main discipline Psychology
Start/End 01.03.2019 - 29.02.2024
Approved amount 1'478'908.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Applied psychology

Keywords (3)

Face recognition; Super-Recognizer; Gesichtserkennung

Lay Summary (German)

Im Alltag sind wir stetig darauf angewiesen, unsere Mitmenschen wieder zu erkennen - meist anhand ihrer Gesichter.
Lay summary

Allerdings unterscheiden sich Menschen in ihrer Fähigkeit, Gesichter zu erkennen. Derzeit sind Defizite der Gesichtserkennung, sowie ihre “normale” Ausprägung gut beschrieben. Viel weniger wissen wir jedoch über sogenannte “Super-Recognizer” – Personen, die über überdurchschnittliche Gesichtserkennungsfähigkeiten verfügen. Was genau sind ihre Stärken, und wo liegen die Grenzen ihrer Fähigkeiten? Können die Fertigkeiten von Super-Recognizern im Alltag, zum Beispiel im Polizei-Alltag, eingesetzt werden? Diesen Fragen geht das Projekt auf den Grund. Tragbare Techniken ermöglichen eine grossflächige, Labor-unabhängige Testung grosser Stichproben – einschliesslich Mitarbeitern internationaler Polizei-Behörden. Das Projekt zielt darauf ab, Unterschiede in der Gesichtserkennung sowohl auf der Verhaltenseben, als auch auf der Hirnebene zu charakterisieren, um unser Verständnis von überragender Gesichtserkennungsfähigkeit zu erweitern.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 20.08.2018

Lay Summary (English)

Every day interactions require us to recognize others - usually based on their faces.
Lay summary

However, individuals differ in their ability to recognize others’ faces. Currently, both deficient and normal face processing are well understood. Far less is known about so-called Super-Recognizers – people with above average face processing skills. Exactly what characterizes their skill, and what are the boundaries of their abilities? Can Super-Recognizers’ skills be used in real life, for example in law enforcement? This project explores these questions. Portable techniques provide “mobile laboratories” and enable large-scale testing – including employees of international police agencies. The project aims to characterize individual differences in face processing in terms of behavior and the brain, to advance our understanding of superior face recognition.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 20.08.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



The scientific domain of face processing is a vibrant, interdisciplinary, and growing field of research that continues to offer novel insights into the functioning of the human brain, as well as generate novel, intriguing questions and implications for practical applications. Currently, we have a wealth of knowledge at our disposal regarding normal face-processing abilities for unfamiliar faces. However, there appears to be a consensus that face processing abilities lie on a continuum, and our firm grasp on the abilities of individuals in the middle “normal” part of that continuum stands in contrast to our limited understanding of the mechanisms associated with both inferior and superior face processing abilities at either extreme of that continuum.This project addresses a novel research area by systematically investigating the mechanisms underlying superior face processing as displayed by so-called “Super-Recognizers” (SRs). Superior face processing is an infant research field with extremely limited, and moreover highly heterogeneous empirical findings, that is nonetheless receiving widespread and increasing public interest. This status quo represents challenges and opportunities alike. Increased interest in this field will facilitate research that will also advance our current knowledge of face processing and human vision. However, transfer to applied settings is in demand now, despite the limited knowledge currently available.This project seeks to bridge the gap between the lab and the real-world to substantially advance our understanding of superior face processing. Collaborations with international law enforcement agencies will enable SR identification based on systematically validated tests used for research purposes. This sample will be complemented with SRs identified under professionally relevant scenarios, with a bespoke assessment tool currently developed for the Criminal Investigation Department of the Berlin Police. Both groups will complete in-depth assessment implemented using portable setups that “bring the lab to the participant".Characterizing the brain-behavior relationship in SRs, this project seeks to enhance our understanding of the mechanisms underlying superior face processing capacities. Given its implications for theories of human cognition, law enforcement, and automatic face recognition, the findings of this project have fundamental scientific, as well as applied value.