The secret life of a super recogniser

Charlene Howells super recogniser interview on silver magazine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

Super recognisers are described as those who have a ‘better than average’ ability to recognise faces, and can spot a face in a crowd of thousands, having only seen them once. Charlene Howells has the gift.

Are you one of those people who ‘never forgets a face’? Or like me, are good with names, not so good at faces? We all see or recognise people in different ways, remembering different things. Ask three people to describe a person they’ve met once and they’ll all give you different descriptions.

But a super recogniser is something completely different. Being able to recognise faces in crowds, from grainy photographs, from a distance, even with faces partially-covered, the super recogniser has the ability to pick a face from a crowd, even after having only seen it briefly.

Are you a super recogniser feature Silver Magazine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

Super recognisers are able to memorise and recall faces with astonishing accuracy, often having seen them only once. But what exactly does this mean?

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR SKILL?

“I can recognise faces easily – I have a better than average ability to remember and recall numerous faces, perhaps having only seen them once or twice for short periods of time. 

“I was on maternity leave a few years back and was filling time during night feeds with surveys and answering random quizzes (as you do). This one particular quiz about recognising faces caught my eye. I did the quiz and scored 100% and filled in my information for the University of Greenwich who then contacted me to do a couple more in depth questions and answers.

“I scored in the highest bracket and they invited me to become a registered super recogniser. This means that I have access to job opportunities where a super recogniser may be needed. This is things like big events where they may be on the lookout for a criminal and only have grainy CCTV footage for me to recognise him/her from. I can spot them.

“I’m a nightmare to watch films with. I see an actor and know I have seen them before and I’ll rack my brains until I can name them and the film/TV programme they were in before. I worry sometimes that people think I’m rude because I usually recognise everyone I have ever spoken to, even if it was a random for two minutes in a bar three years ago. It means I often won’t say hello to people when I pass them at the supermarket or wherever because people don’t usually recognise me back.”

WHAT KIND OF WORK IS INVOLVED?

“I belong to the Association of Super Recognisers. You go through levels where you do further training to fine tune your skills. You can then go on to apply for job opportunities, and work your way up to work for the police and government agencies.

“I’m always fascinated by seeing how light hits people’s faces as it casts shadows. When it comes to looking at faces on CCTV or mugshot, I look at, say, how close together someone’s eyes are, or how their ears sit on their heads. Which must sound really bizarre to some people but I do it without even thinking about it. 

Face recognition super recognisers feature Silver Magazine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

“From a security point of view, the implications of not fulfilling the job requirement is huge. I am currently doing training to hopefully work with the police. I haven’t yet, due to having children and it means time away from home. But I am definitely working towards it. It’s serious stuff! I would love to have the time to eventually do something like this.”

DO YOU FEEL DIFFERENT TO OTHER PEOPLE?

“As I’ve nothing to compare it to, I’m unsure how other people see faces. But I’m also a makeup artist so do look at people’s bones structure and distinguishing features all the time.

“I wonder how other people see faces. I tend to over-analyse and overthink all the time in all aspects of my life. People’s faces are just another ‘thing’. It’s never to judge or anything like that. I will scrutinise the details in an instant but it’s second nature to me. 

“It impacts my relationships with people. As mentioned before, I think people will think I’m a bit of a weirdo if I was to say hi to them and they didn’t recognise me back, so I tend not to, unless someone says hi to me first. Also, I’m quite socially awkward so it definitely affects how I make an impression with new people and I worry what people think of me. I ‘think’ people believe I’m a bit stand-offish at first.”

CAN YOU SPOT OTHER THINGS, LIKE EMOTIONS TOO?

“I can read people’s emotions quite well. I’m very good at being able to tell if someone is lying. Body language fascinates me and little things that people do subconsciously when lying I can pick up on very quickly. 

“I would imagine if you wanted to brush up your skills you could train to improve, but I think you would really have to change the way you look at people. Some may find hard, especially in social situations if you aren’t used to it. 

“I love that I am a ‘super-recogniser’ – it sounds great doesn’t it?! I love that I have a skill that not a lot of people have. I wouldn’t see it as a hindrance, although my general overthinking can be sometimes. But the ability to be able to recognise so many people who come in and out of my life is pretty cool in my eyes.”

If you’re interested to find out if you’re a super recogniser there’s a test on the University of Greenwich website.

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