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Bad at recognising people – blame your genes

The ability to recognise faces is a distinct human skill, separate from a general ability to , and can be inherited. In other words, people who are good at recognising cars are not necessarily good at recognising faces. This is the finding of a study by and from King’s College London presented on Thursday 8 May 2014, at the ’s annual conference hosted at the International Convention Centre, Birmingham.

The researchers and their colleagues asked 1000 pairs of twins born between 1994 and 1996 to complete a series of psychological tests. These measured their ability to recognise objects (in this case cars) and their ability to recognise faces.

The participants also completed a new measure to determine their (their ability to recognise emotions from others’ faces and behaviour). This measure, as well as looking at object and face recognition, looked at the twins’ ability to recognise emotion in faces and in other ways – from body language and voice.

Analysis of the results confirmed that a specialised ability to recognise faces exists separate from an ability to recognise objects in general.

The analysis also showed that people who were good at recognising faces tended to have better social intelligence, but that there was no correlation between being good at recognising cars and social intelligence.

By comparing identical twins (who share all their genes) and fraternal twins (who share on average half of the genes that typically vary between people), the researchers were also able to determine the extent to which the ability to recognise faces is inherited. Dr Schofield said: “Our analyses suggest that face-processing ability is about 60 per cent heritable. The figure for recognising objects is a little higher at around 65 per cent.”

The researchers are now looking at possible relationships between low social intelligence and psychological factors like conduct disorder and autistic spectrum tendencies.


British Psychological Society (BPS)