Face recognition ability largely determined by genes: UCL research

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists found that identical twins were twice as similar to each other in terms of their ability to recognise faces, compared to non-identical twins.

Researchers also found that the genetic effects that allow people to recognise faces are linked to a highly specific mechanism in the brain, unrelated to other brain processes such as the ability to recognise words or abstract art.

''Face recognition is a skill that we depend on daily and considerable variability exists in the ability to recognise faces. Our results show that genetic differences are responsible for the great majority of the difference in face recognition ability between people,'' said Dr Brad Duchaine from UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, a co-author of the paper.

The study consisted of 164 identical twins, who share all of their genes, and 125 non-identical same-sex twins, who share 50 per cent of their genes. All the participants took the Cambridge Face Memory Test, which measures ability to learn six faces and then recognise them in novel poses and lighting.

Scientists examined the similarity between scores for both types of twin pairs.

The correlation for identical twin pairs was 0.70, whereas the correlation for non-identical twins was less than half that, at 0.29. This difference indicates that the similarity in identical twin pairs is due to their shared genes, rather than shared family environment.