Do you remember what you had for breakfast yesterday? Or what color shirt your roommate or partner was wearing? What about the hair color of the guy who held the door open for you at Starbucks last week? No? It’s okay, you’re not alone. But if you do remember that stuff, you might be the key to fighting crime.
Take Idris Bada, a so called super-recognizer who works for the Metropolitan Police Service in London. They started calling him Idris the Jailer for his ability to remember names and faces based on CCTV images. It’s kind of like the opposite of face-blindness, where you can’t remember anyone’s faces. Researchers think that as many as 1 in 40 people might be face blind, in the bottom two percent of the ability range when it comes to recognizing faces. About the same number, something like 1 in 50, might be super-recognizers—in the top two percent of the facial recognition ability range.
Having such super memory is also sometimes odd. Many say they hide the ability, to not freak everybody out. ” “I do have to pretend that I don’t remember ,” one of them told New Scientist, ”when I recall that we saw each other once on campus four years ago.”
Understanding how and why this works brings us back to Bada and the Metropolitan Police Service. The idea is that if police officers who are super-recognizers can be recruited and trained to hone their skills, they could dramatically increase the effectiveness of the police force. It would take training every day for weeks at a time, but it could increase recognition by up to 10 percent. New Scientist writes:
Would that justify the investment in time and effort? Unsurprisingly, the officers I spoke to felt that super-recognising is a satisfying skill to have at their disposal. Bada recalls a particularly good day at the office back in 2005. “I opened a cell door and I saw my bully from primary school, nearly 27 years after I last clapped eyes on him,” he recalls. “I just looked at him and said: ‘I remember you’.”
More from Smithsonian.com: