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‘Super-recognisers’ excel at identifying outside own ethnic group

People with outstanding facial recognition skills perform to a high degree in identifying people both from within and outside their own ethnic group, according to new research from the University of Strathclyde’s Applied Cognitive Psychology (ACP) Lab.

The study assessed the abilities of ‘super-recognisers,’ (SRs) who have a highly-developed aptitude for distinguishing or recalling faces – or both.

Owing to a well-established psychological phenomenon known as the Other-Race Effect (ORE), most people are better able to distinguish faces of people from their own ethnic groups than from others.

However, in a study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, the research team found that a group of White Caucasian super-recognisers also excelled at verifying the identities of Egyptian individuals, in comparison to people with more typical recognition skills.

Dr David Robertson, Lecturer in Psychology at Strathclyde and lead author, said: “Research has shown that we should be selecting super-recognisers for roles in which accurate identity verification is key, such as passport control and in policing. However, in both of those contexts, super-recognisers are likely to encounter individuals from outside their own ethnic group.

“The findings from our new study show that the super-recogniser advantage remains when such individuals are tasked with identifying individuals from a different ethnic group. This extends our understanding of the of the super-recogniser ability and enhances our confidence in their deployment in real world contexts”.

The study was part of an international collaboration with Dr Josh Davis of the University of Greenwich and Professor Ahmed Megreya of Qatar University.

An accompanying article has also been published in The Conversation.

Read the research paper