Monday, May 25, 2009
Beate Lønn's super power
Just a little tidbit, life imitating fiction or something like that. The characters in Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series are generally ordinary folks, but one police inspector, Beate Lønn, has a super power (one more suited to a police procedural than a superhero comic, though). She has (according to the author) a highly developed "fusiform gyrus" in her brain that makes it possible for her to recognize faces, even if only seen briefly and long in the past. A valuable asset for a cop. As a reader, I'm always skeptical of that sort of thing but there was a short article in today's Washington Post that (although it doesn't mention the "fusiform gyrus") does offer scientific evidence for Lønn's talent. Post reporter Shankar Vedantam writes that "in research being published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Harvard psychologist Richard Russell and his colleagues have shown that there is a third group of people whose face-recognition skills are unusually good...Russell and his colleagues studied four people with the unusual face-recognition skills, who reported being able to remember faces of strangers they had seen months earlier. Experiments showed that these people could recognize faces even if the features had been changed or distorted, and that they were significantly better at such tasks than average people." The research starts off by questioning the notion that there is the normal ability to recognize faces and there is prosopagnosia (a disability causing lack of facial recognition ability) as the only options for facial recognition. But the research reveals a spectrum of ability, all the way up to those with Beate's talent--reinforcing the realism of her role in the novels, scientifically no less.