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Abstract Why are some individuals better at recognising faces? Uncovering the neural mechanisms supporting face recognition ability has proven elusive. To tackle this challenge, we used a multi-modal data-driven approach combining neuroimaging, computational modelling, and behavioural tests. We recorded the high-density electroencephalographic brain activity of individuals with extraordinary face recognition abilities—super-recognisers—and typical recognisers in response to diverse visual stimuli. Using multivariate pattern analyses, we decoded face recognition abilities from 1 second of brain activity with up to 80% accuracy. To better understand the mechanisms subtending this decoding, we compared representations in the brains of our participants with those in artificial neural network models of vision and semantics, as well as with those involved in human judgments of shape and meaning similarity. Compared to typical recognisers, we found stronger associations between early brain representations of super-recognisers and mid-level representations of vision models as well as shape similarity judgments. Moreover, we found stronger associations between late brain representations of super-recognisers and representations of the artificial semantic model as well as meaning similarity judgments. Overall, these results indicate that important individual variations in brain processing, including neural computations extending beyond purely visual processes, support differences in face recognition abilities. They provide the first empirical evidence for an association between semantic computations and face recognition abilities. We believe that such multi-modal data-driven approaches will likely play a critical role in further revealing the complex nature of idiosyncratic face recognition in the human brain.

Original publication




Journal article


PNAS Nexus


Oxford University Press (OUP)

Publication Date