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Forensic facial examiners vs. super-recognizers: Evaluating behavior beyond accuracy



Carina Hahn, Liansheng Larry Tang, Amy Yates, P. Jonathon Phillips


Forensic facial examiners and super-recognizers are highly accurate face matchers and outperform the general population. Typically, forensic facial examiners are highly trained, whereas super-recognizers are thought to rely on natural ability. Previous studies have compared the accuracy of facial examiners and super-recognizers but have not studied the detailed behavioral properties of their face matching performance. In this study, we further analyzed a previous study which tested facial examiners and super-recognizers on a challenging test of face matching, or facial comparison, ability. In that study, the two groups were equally accurate. Here, we further characterize their behavior. We found distinct behaviors between these two groups, independent of overall accuracy. We found: 1) Facial examiners and super-recognizers used the 7-point identity judgment scale differently; 2) Super-recognizers had a preference for the extreme points on the scale (highly confident decisions) and were averse to determining that an identity judgment could not be made; facial examiners took advantage of the full range of judgments, including indicating that identity could not be determined; 3) For facial examiners, judgments for same-identities and different-identities were consistent; for super-recognizers judgments varied; 4) Identity judgment agreement across participants was higher within facial examiners compared to agreement within super-recognizers. We next examined metacognitive awareness of their own ability. While there were qualitative differences in the use of the scale, both groups showed behavioral insight into their own accuracy: more confident people and those who rated the task to be easier tended to be more accurate. These findings suggest that studying facial comparisons may benefit from assessing more than accuracy. This deeper understanding allows us to better interpret judgment according to the nature of a person's facial expertise and experience.
PsyArXiv Preprints; OSF


biometrics, decision making, facial comparison, facial forensics, facial identification, facial recognition, forensic facial examiner, super-recognizer


Hahn, C. , Tang, L. , Yates, A. and Phillips, P. (2021), Forensic facial examiners vs. super-recognizers: Evaluating behavior beyond accuracy, PsyArXiv Preprints; OSF, [online],,,; (Accessed September 24, 2023)
Created August 24, 2021, Updated November 29, 2022