GROUND-BREAKING research at Bournemouth University (BU) could lead to improvements in security and border control.

Research by Dr Sarah Bate and Research Fellow Anna Bobak has discovered that so-called Super-recognisers - people with exceptional face-processing and matching abilities - could play an important role in security settings.

They discovered that such people were better at face-matching tasks than some security equipment and could therefore be valuable personnel for border control.

Ms Bobak said: “Passport photographs are valid for ten years and in that time someone’s appearance can change significantly – anything from facial hair to weight fluctuations and haircuts. Someone can even go from being a child or adolescent to an adult on the same passport.

“So having someone who’s very capable of doing those tasks would not only prevent fraudulent attempts happening, but also potentially speed up the process of checking those passports.”

Super-recognisers are people with significantly better than average face recognition skills, often able to remember and match faces after many years have passed or in a dramatically different context.

Dr Bate, a Principal Academic in BU’s Department of Psychology, said: “This work is particularly important because it is becoming increasingly clear that computers can’t reliably replace humans in face recognition tasks.

“The identification of super recognisers offers an alternative way by which we can improve national security using human resources.

“If we can also identify the processing strategies used by super recognisers it is possible we can teach these techniques to people with typical face recognition skills.”

While no scientific research has yet been published about the prevalence of super recognition in the general population, it seems that very few people have the skill.

“Super-recognisers recognise people after many years have passed and there’s been quite a substantial change in appearance – such as when someone goes from being a child to being an adult” said Ms Bobak.

“Quite often they tell us that they try not to approach people that they recognise, because it creates all sorts of awkward situations.”

Further research by the BU team, due to be published shortly in a special edition of the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, has explored what makes super-recognisers so good at processing and remembering faces.

It used eye-tracking technology to see where and for how long people focus on images of faces, both individually and in a social context.

They discovered that super-recognisers look at faces in a slightly different way.

Ms Bobak added: “Super-recognition and its applications are very wide and it’s really important that those people’s skills are put to good use.”

You can find out more about the research and test to see if you might be a super-recogniser at