ROBERTSON, D. J., & A. MIKE BURTON. (2020). CHECKING ID‐CARDS FOR THE SALE OF RESTRICTED GOODS: AGE DECISIONS BIAS FACE DECISIONS. APPLIED COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY. HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1002/ACP.3739
Matching unfamiliar faces is highly error‐prone, and most studies highlight the implications for real‐world ID‐checking. Here we study a particular instance of ID‐checking: proof of age for buying restricted goods such as alcohol. In this case, checkers must establish that an identity document is carried by its legitimate owner (i.e., that the ID photo matches the face of the bearer) and that the ID proves the bearer to be old enough to make the purchase. Across three experiments, using two common forms of photo‐ID (i.e., driving licences, PASS+ cards) we show that observers produce very high error rates when age requirements are met, but faces mismatch. This bias away from detecting a face mismatch remained evident in experienced cashiers – though to a somewhat attenuated level. We discuss interactions between face matching and other tasks, and the practical consequences of a bias which favours those using photo‐ID with fraudulent intent.
DAVIS, J. P., & ROBERTSON, D. J. (2020). CAPITALIZING ON THE SUPER-
RECOGNITION ADVANTAGE: A POWERFUL, BUT UNDERUTILIZED, TOOL FOR POLICING AND NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCIES. THE JOURNAL OF THE UNITED STATES HOMELAND DEFERENCE AND SECURITY INFORMATION ANALYSIS CENTRE (HDIAC), 7, 1, 20-25.
Accurate identity judgements are critical in ensuring that suspects can be apprehended by law enforcement and national security agencies, and that identity fraud attacks do not go undetected at border control points. Research has shown that typical human observers are poor at facial recognition in these contexts. However, there is now a decade’s worth of psychological science which shows that some individuals - known as super-recognizers - excel at such tasks. This article reviews the latest super-recognition science for agencies to consider implementing to enable a powerful and cost effective identity verification advantage.
ROBERTSON, D. J., SANDERS, J. G., TOWLER, A., KRAMER, R. S. S., SPOWAGE, J., BYRNE, A., BURTON, A. M., & JENKINS, R. (2020) HYPER-REALISTIC MASKS IN A LIVE PASSPORT-CHECKING TASK. DOI/PDF/10.1177/0301006620904614
Hyper-realistic face masks have been used as disguises in at least one border crossing, and in numerous criminal cases. Experimental tests using these masks have shown that viewers accept them as real faces under a range of conditions. Here, we tested mask detection in a live identity verification task. Fifty-four visitors at the London Science Museum viewed a mask wearer at close range (2 metres) as part of a mock passport check. They then answered a series of questions designed to assess mask detection, while the masked traveller was still in view. In the identity matching task, 8% of viewers accepted the mask as matching a real photo of someone else, and 82% accepted the match between masked person and masked photo. When asked if there was any reason to detain the traveller, only 13% of viewers mentioned a mask. A further 11% picked disguise from a list of suggested reasons. Even after reading about mask-related fraud, 10% of viewers judged that the traveller was not wearing a mask. Overall, mask detection was poor, and was not predicted by unfamiliar face matching performance. We conclude that hyper-realistic face masks could go undetected during live identity checks.
ROBERTSON, D. J., TOWLER, A., SANDERS, J., & KRAMER, R. S. S. (2020). HYPER-REALISTIC MASKS ARE EXTREMELY HARD TO SPOT – AS OUR NEW RESEARCH SHOWS. THE CONVERSATION.
It’s easy to spot someone wearing a mask, right? Well, new research suggests that it can be much harder than you think. Masks are a great way to help actors get into character and scare young children at Halloween. Unfortunately, they can also help criminals to commit identity fraud. Hyper-realistic silicone masks of the kind that get torn off in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible movies are being are being used to commit identity crimes. These masks are incredibly detailed, complete with hair, freckles and wrinkles. They cover the head and chest of the wearer, and include holes for the eyes and mouth which blend seamlessly with the wearer’s skin to create a lifelike appearance.
ROBERTSON, D. J., BLACK, J., CHAMBERLAIN, B., MEGREYA, A., & DAVIS, J. P. (2019). SUPER-RECOGNISERS SHOW AN ADVANTAGE FOR OTHER RACE FACE IDENTIFICATION. (ACCEPTED: APPLIED COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY)
The accurate identification of an unfamiliar individual from a face photo is a critical factor in several applied situations (e.g., border control). Despite this, matching faces to photographic ID is highly prone to error. In lieu of effective training measures, which could reduce face matching errors, the selection of “super-recognisers” (SRs) provides the most promising route to combat misidentification or fraud. However, to date, super-recognition has been defined and tested using almost exclusively “ownrace” face memory and matching tests. Here, across three studies, we test Caucasian participants' performance on own- and other-race face identification tasks (GFMT, MFMT, CFMT+, EFMT, CFMT-Chinese). Our findings show that compared to controls, high-performing typical recognisers (Studies 1 and 2) and SRs (Study 3) show superior performance on both the own- and other-race tests. These findings suggest that recruiting SRs in ethnically diverse applied settings could be advantageous.other-race tests. These findings suggest that recruiting SRs in ethnically diverse applied settings could be advantageous.
ROBERTSON, D. J., MEGREYA, A. M., & DAVIS, J. P. (2020). FACIAL RECOGNITION: RESEARCH REVEALS NEW ABILITIES OF ‘SUPER-RECOGNISERS’. THE CONVERSATION.
Do you never forget a face? Are you one of those people who can spot the same nameless extras across different TV programmes and adverts? Are you the family member always called on to identify or match faces in old photographs? If so, you may be a “super-recogniser” – the term science uses to describe people with an exceptional ability to recognise faces. Over the past decade, psychologists have established that our ability to recognise faces varies a lot – much like the ability to sing, for instance. While a small proportion of the population simply can’t hold a note at all, and most are content to confine their very average efforts to the shower, at the top end there are outstanding singers, such as Adele. Researchers believe the same applies to facial-recognition ability. A small proportion of people struggle to recognise friends and family (a condition known as prosopagnosia), most people are “typical recognisers”, and at the top there is a small number of people who excel at recognising faces – super-recognisers.
ROBERTSON, D. J., FYSH, M. C., & BINDEMANN, M. (2019). FACIAL IDENTITY VERIFICATION: FIVE CHALLENGES FACING PRACTITIONERS. THE KEESING JOURNAL OF DOCUMENTS AND IDENTITY, 59, 3-8.
The scientific study of facial identification in Psychology is of practical relevance to security
operations and police investigations in which establishing the identity of an unfamiliar person is of
critical importance. At border control checkpoints, for example, officials compare the face of each
traveler to their corresponding passport photograph. A key security threat in these settings is the
occurrence of identity mismatches (aka “impostors”), who attempt to evade detection by using
stolen or borrowed passports. Recently, impostors have also begun utilizing more sophisticated
methods of hiding their identity. In this short review, we outline five of the key challenges for facial
identification that are of current relevance to applied security settings, with a focus on how
psychological science can be instrumental in overcoming the difficulties that accompany this task.
MILLER, C. B., ROBERTSON, D. J., JOHNSON, K. A., LOVATO, N., BARTLETT, D. J., GRUNSTEIN, R. R., & GORDON, C. J. (2019). TIRED AND LACK FOCUS? INSOMNIA INCREASES DISTRACTIBILITY. JOURNAL OF HEALTH PSYCHOLOGY, HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1177/1359105319842927
Chronic insomnia is associated with subjective daytime cognitive dysfunction, but objective corroborative data are often lacking. In this study, we use Perceptual Load Theory to objectively assess distractibility in participants with insomnia (N = 23) compared with age- and sex-matched controls (N = 23). Following overnight supervised sleep observation, all participants completed a selective attention task which varied in the level of perceptual load and distractor congruency. The insomnia group was found to be more distracted than controls, whereas their selective attention mechanism appeared to be intact, with reduced distractor processing under high load for both groups. Insomnia symptom severity was positively correlated with participant distractibility. These findings suggest that there are insomnia-related daytime cognitive impairments that are likely to arise from compromised cognitive control rather than an ineffective selective attention mechanism. This task may be clinically useful in assessing daytime impairments, and potentially treatment response, in those with insomnia.
ROBERTSON, D. J. & BINDEMANN, M. (2019). CONSOLIDATION, WIDER REFLECTION, AND POLICY: RESPONSE TO ‘SUPER‐RECOGNISERS: FROM THE LAB TO THE WORLD AND BACK AGAIN’. BRITISH JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY HTTPS://DOI.ORG/10.1111/BJOP.12393
Here, David Robertson and Markus Bindemann respond to a recent BJP Target Article on ‘super‐recognisers’ (SRs). They outline the need to consider human factors that could influence SR performance after selection and the need for a co‐ordinated effort to ensure best practice in the implementation of SRs in applied contexts.
PARRA, M. A., BUTLER, S., MCGEOWN, W. J., BROWN NICHOLLS, L. A., & ROBERTSON, D. J. (ACCEPTED/IN PRESS). GLOBALISING STRATEGIES TO MEET GLOBAL CHALLENGES: THE CASE OF AGEING AND DEMENTIA. JOURNAL OF GLOBAL HEALTH (ACCEPTED/IN PRESS).
Dementia has been declared a Global Challenge . However, strategies to tackle it are far from global. Epidemiological forecasts are more alarming for low and middle-income countries (LMIC) than for high-income countries (HIC), and yet provisions to support the former are scarce and, in some cases, as we discuss below, impractical. New initiatives are emerging to close these gaps. The Latin America and Caribbean Consortium on Dementia (LAC-CD)  and the Global Dementia Prevention Program (GloDePP Consortium; Wang, H. from Peking University and Chan, K.Y. from University of Edinburgh. Preventing dementia and improving dementia care: setting and addressing research priorities in China. Supported by Global Challenges Research Fund Networking Grants). They are seeking strategies to meet and map local and global challenges. Both consortia agree that actions to improve diagnosis and post-diagnostic support are of utmost priority. Here we discuss theory-driven, culturally valid, and interdisciplinary approaches that can yield affordable, reliable, and practical solutions to meet these outstanding needs.
BURTON, A .M., JENKINS, R. & ROBERTSON, D. J. (2018). I RECOGNISE YOUR NAME BUT I CAN'T REMEMBER YOUR FACE: AN ADVANTAGE FOR NAMES IN RECOGNITION MEMORY. QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY (IN PRESS).
Forgetting someone's name is a common failure of memory, and often occurs despite being able to recognise that person's face. This gives rise to the widespread view that memory for names is generally worse than memory for faces. However, this everyday error confounds stimulus class (faces versus names) with memory task: recognition versus recall. Here we compare memory for faces and names when both are tested in the same recognition memory framework. Contrary to the common view, we find a clear advantage for names over faces. Across three experiments we show that recognition of previously unfamiliar names exceeds recognition of previously unfamiliar faces. This advantage persists, even when the same face pictures are repeated at learning and test - a picture-memory task known to produce high levels of performance. Differential performance between names and faces disappears in recognition memory for familiar people. The results are discussed with reference to representational complexity and everyday memory errors.
ROBERTSON, D. J., MUNGALL, A., WATSON, D. G., WADE, K. A., NIGHTINGALE, S. J., & BUTLER, S. (2018). DETECTING MORPHED PASSPORT PHOTOS: A TRAINING AND INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES APPROACH. COGNITIVE RESEARCH: PRINCIPLES AND IMPLICATIONS, 3(1), 27.
Our reliance on face photos for identity verification is at odds with extensive research which shows that matching pairs of unfamiliar faces is highly prone to error. This process can therefore be exploited by identity fraudsters seeking to deceive ID checkers (e.g., using a stolen passport which contains an image of a similar looking individual to deceive border control officials). In this study we build on previous work which sought to quantify the threat posed by a relatively new type of fraud: morphed passport photos. Participants were initially unaware of the presence of morphs in a series of face photo arrays and were simply asked to detect which images they thought had been digitally manipulated (i.e., “images that didn’t look quite right”). All participants then received basic information on morph fraud and rudimentary guidance on how to detect such images, followed by a morph detection training task (Training Group, n = 40), or a non-face control task (Guidance Group, n = 40). Participants also completed a post-guidance/training morph detection task and the Models Face Matching Test (MFMT). Our findings show that baseline morph detection rates were poor, that morph detection training significantly improved the identification of these images over and above basic guidance, and that accuracy in the mismatch condition of the MFMT correlated with morph detection ability. The results are discussed in relation to potential countermeasures for morph-based identity fraud.
MCCAFFERY, J. M., ROBERTSON, D. J., YOUNG, A. W., & BURTON, A. M. (2018). INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN FACE IDENTITY PROCESSING. COGNITIVE RESEARCH: PRINCIPLES AND IMPLICATIONS, 3(1), 21.
We investigated the relationships between individual differences in different aspects of face-identity processing, using the Glasgow Face Matching Test (GFMT) as a measure of unfamiliar face perception, the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) as a measure of new face learning, and the Before They Were Famous task (BTWF) as a measure of familiar face recognition. These measures were integrated into two separate studies examining the relationship between face processing and other tasks. For Study 1 we gathered participants’ subjective ratings of their own face perception abilities. In Study 2 we used additional measures of perceptual and cognitive abilities, and personality factors to place individual differences in a broader context. Performance was significantly correlated across the three face-identity tasks in both studies, suggesting some degree of commonality of underlying mechanisms. For Study 1 the participants’ self-ratings correlated poorly with performance, reaching significance only for judgements of familiar face recognition. In Study 2 there were few associations between face tasks and other measures, with task-level influences seeming to account for the small number of associations present. In general, face tasks correlated with each other, but did not show an overall relation with other perceptual, cognitive or personality tests. Our findings are consistent with the existence of a general face-perception factor, able to account for around 25% of the variance in scores. However, other relatively task-specific influences are also clearly operating.
ROBERTSON, D. J. (2018). FACE RECOGNITION: SECURITY CONTEXTS, SUPER-RECOGNIZERS, AND SOPHISTICATED FRAUD. JOURNAL OF THE UNITED STATES HOMELAND DEFENCE AND SECURITY INFORMATION ANALYSIS CENTER (HDIAC), 5(1), 6-10.
Unfamiliar face recognition, the visual identification of a person with whom you are unfamiliar, is commonly utilized in security settings. However, our continued reliance on unfamiliar face recognition for identity verification is not supported by findings from psychological science . Research has shown that whether it be for face photos or live faces, specialists or student control groups, unfamiliar face recognition is prone to error and can be exploited by fraudsters seeking to deceive identity checkers. The selection of super-recognizers (SRs)— professionals trained in unfamiliar face recognition for security-critical roles— would appear to be the best strategy at present to improve accuracy in unfamiliar face identification. However, the selection and deployment of these individuals must be standardized, with clear criteria for SR categorization, and individual SRs must be assessed across a variety of tests (i.e., matching and memory) to ensure effective deployment. This article will review the state of the art in unfamiliar face recognition research, before discussing two newer forms of identity fraud: hyper-realistic masks and morphs. Advancements in surveillance and biometric technologies will not obviate the need for border and law enforcement agencies to have capabilities in human-based facial recognition.
ROBERTSON, D. J. (2018). FACE RECOGNITION: STOPPING IDENTITY FRAUD. PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW, 24(1), 28-31.
Introduction. Are we expert face recognisers? At first glance, our ability to recognise a person in real life or from a face photo appears to be something that we do with ease. Consider the images of former Prime Minister David Cameron shown in Figure 1, this is someone that should be familiar to you. If I were to show you any one of those images you would instantly recognise that the person in the image is David Cameron. Now, have a look at the images again, and note just how much variability there is. Across photos, there are differences in pose, expression, lighting, and image quality. In addition to these sources of variability, in real life we also have to recognise people as they age, as they change hairstyle (or even hair colour), or use makeup. That is, our ability to recognise new instances of people that we are familiar with, is something that the brain does with ease, even though facial appearance can vary quite considerably. So, are we expert face recognisers? The answer is yes, when we have to recognise new instances of people we are familiar with (people that we know). However, in a variety of important applied contexts, such as in the criminal justice system, passport control, and in combating the sale of age-restricted goods (i.e. cigarettes and alcohol) to minors, the task at hand involves accurate unfamiliar face recognition, and that task is difficult and highly prone to error.
ROBERTSON, D. J., JENKINS, R., & BURTON, A. M. (2017). FACE DETECTION DISSOCIATES FROM FACE IDENTIFICATION. VISUAL COGNITION, 25(7-8), 740-748.
We describe three experiments in which viewers complete face detection tasks as well as standard measures of unfamiliar face identification. In the first two studies, participants viewed pareidolic images of objects (Experiment 1) or cloud scenes (Experiment 2), and their propensity to see faces in these scenes was measured. In neither case is performance significantly associated with identification, as measured by the Cambridge Face Memory or Glasgow Face Matching Tests. In Experiment 3 we showed participants real faces in cluttered scenes. Viewers’ ability to detect these faces is unrelated to their identification performance. We conclude that face detection dissociates from face identification.
ROBERTSON, D. J., KRAMER, R. S., & BURTON, A. M. (2017). FRAUDULENT ID USING FACE MORPHS: EXPERIMENTS ON HUMAN AND AUTOMATIC RECOGNITION. PLOS ONE, 12(3), E0173319.
Matching unfamiliar faces is known to be difficult, and this can give an opportunity to those engaged in identity fraud. Here we examine a relatively new form of fraud, the use of photo-ID containing a graphical morph between two faces. Such a document may look sufficiently like two people to serve as ID for both. We present two experiments with human viewers, and a third with a smartphone face recognition system. In Experiment 1, viewers were asked to match pairs of faces, without being warned that one of the pair could be a morph. They very commonly accepted a morphed face as a match. However, in Experiment 2, following very short training on morph detection, their acceptance rate fell considerably. Nevertheless, there remained large individual differences in people’s ability to detect a morph. In Experiment 3 we show that a smartphone makes errors at a similar rate to ‘trained’ human viewers—i.e. accepting a small number of morphs as genuine ID. We discuss these results in reference to the use of face photos for security.
ROBERTSON, D. J. (2017). FACE MORPHS: A NEW PATHWAY TO IDENTITY FRAUD. THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND DEFENCE AND SECURITY INFORMATION ANALYSIS CENTRE (HDIAC: SPOTLIGHT)
The human face recognition system is able to recognize new and highly varied instances of people we are familiar with. Unfamiliar face recognition, however, has been shown to be a difficult task and one that is highly prone to error.  Despite this, agencies rely on unfamiliar face recognition in areas that are critical to our security.  For example, border control can rely on our officials’ ability to decide whether an unfamiliar traveler’s face matches their passport photo. Getting this decision wrong allows individuals with fraudulent passports to illegally enter the country. In short, the poor recognition of unfamiliar faces is a concern for the United States as it can lead to errors in person identification and identity fraud.
ROBERTSON, D. J., NOYES, E., DOWSETT, A. J., JENKINS, R., & BURTON, A. M. (2016). FACE RECOGNITION BY METROPOLITAN POLICE SUPER-RECOGNISERS. PLOS ONE, 11(2), E0150036.
Face recognition is used to prove identity across a wide variety of settings. Despite this, research consistently shows that people are typically rather poor at matching faces to photos. Some professional groups, such as police and passport officers, have been shown to perform just as poorly as the general public on standard tests of face recognition. However, face recognition skills are subject to wide individual variation, with some people showing exceptional ability—a group that has come to be known as ‘super-recognisers’. The Metropolitan Police Force (London) recruits ‘super-recognisers’ from within its ranks, for deployment on various identification tasks. Here we test four working super-recognisers from within this police force, and ask whether they are really able to perform at levels above control groups. We consistently find that the police ‘super-recognisers’ perform at well above normal levels on tests of unfamiliar and familiar face matching, with degraded as well as high quality images. Recruiting employees with high levels of skill in these areas, and allocating them to relevant tasks, is an efficient way to overcome some of the known difficulties associated with unfamiliar face recognition.
ROBERTSON, D. J. (2016). COULD SUPER RECOGNISERS BE THE LATEST WEAPON IN THE WAR ON TERROR? THE CONVERSATION.
You may not have heard of “super recognisers” – people who literally never forget a face. In the UK, the London Metropolitan Police has its own super recogniser squad who have been shown to have extraordinary powers of recall when it comes to identifying people from an image or photo.Both in policing and at border control, unfamiliar face matching – rather than face memory – is key to successful operation. Super recognisers have been shown to perform significantly better than control groups in a number of tasks related to identification. So could this enhanced ability to spot a face in a crowd be used in the fight against terrorism?
ROBERTSON, D. J. & BURTON, M. (2016). UNFAMILIAR FACE RECOGNITION: SECURITY, SURVEILLANCE AND SMARTPHONES. THE JOURNAL OF THE UNITED STATES HOMELAND DEFENCE AND SECURITY INFORMATION ANALYSIS CENTER (HDIAC), 3(1), 14-21.
person's ability to recognize familiar faces across a wide range of viewing conditions is one of the most impressive facets of human cognition. As shown in Figure 1, it is easy to conclude, for a known individual, that each image in the set shows the same person (British Prime Minister David Cameron), despite a wide range of variation in viewing angle, physical appearance, camera and lighting. In fact, familiar face recognition performance is often at or near ceiling level, even when the images are of poor quality  or artificially distorted.  At first glance, the aptitude for familiar face recognition may suggest a similar level of expertise for the recognition of unfamiliar faces, thus the reliance on faceto- photo ID for identity verification.  This is not the case, as recent research shows people are surprisingly poor at recognizing new instances of an unfamiliar person. The poor recognition of unfamiliar faces is a concern for the United States. Many preliminary screenings involve facial recognition by security agents. In order for this method to be effective, more robust training for security agents needs to be established. The Department of Defense utilizes facial and iris recognition technologies in order to eliminate human error in identifying persons of interest during surveillance operations.  DoD guidelines should be implemented by security agent guidance programs to ensure best practices in identification of potential threats.
ROBERTSON, D. J., KRAMER, R. S., & BURTON, A. M. (2015). FACE AVERAGES ENHANCE USER RECOGNITION FOR SMARTPHONE SECURITY. PLOS ONE, 10(3), E0119460.
Our recognition of familiar faces is excellent, and generalises across viewing conditions. However, unfamiliar face recognition is much poorer. For this reason, automatic face recognition systems might benefit from incorporating the advantages of familiarity. Here we put this to the test using the face verification system available on a popular smartphone (the Samsung Galaxy). In two experiments we tested the recognition performance of the smartphone when it was encoded with an individual’s ‘face-average’ – a representation derived from theories of human face perception. This technique significantly improved performance for both unconstrained celebrity images (Experiment 1) and for real faces (Experiment 2): users could unlock their phones more reliably when the device stored an average of the user’s face than when they stored a single image. This advantage was consistent across a wide variety of everyday viewing conditions. Furthermore, the benefit did not reduce the rejection of imposter faces. This benefit is brought about solely by consideration of suitable representations for automatic face recognition, and we argue that this is just as important as development of matching algorithms themselves. We propose that this representation could significantly improve recognition rates in everyday settings.
ROBERTSON, D. J., MIDDLETON, R. & BURTON, A. M. (2015). FROM POLICING TO PASSPORT CONTROL: THE LIMITATIONS OF PHOTO ID. KEESING: THE JOURNAL OF DOCUMENTS AND IDENTITY, 46, 3-8.
Identity verification at passport control, in policing, and in retail stores is most often achieved by matching an individual’s face to a photographic identity document. Despite this, recent research has shown that unfamiliar face recognition is a difficult task, and one which is highly prone to error. In this article, David Robertson, Russ Middleton and Mike Burton outline evidence which establishes the difficulty faced by professionals in occupations which require accurate face recognition, and suggest new avenues of research which may reduce current levels of human error and have the potential to improve real‐world recognition performance.
ROBERTSON, D. J. (2015). FACE RECOGNITION IMPROVES SECURITY. THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND DEFENCE AND SECURITY INFORMATION ANALYSIS CENTRE (HDIAC: SPOTLIGHT).
Facial recognition technology has been widely used by the military for identity confirmation and surveillance. It is a unique biometric system because there is no contact necessary to gather images, unlike fingerprinting. Facial recognition, which is also used as a security feature on smartphones and computers, can be improved to more accurately identify a person based on their facial features. Researchers from the University of York FaceVar Lab are working on ways to improve facial recognition as a security feature that would also translate to improvements for military applications.
FORSTER, S., ROBERTSON, D. J., JENNINGS, A., ASHERSON, P., & LAVIE, N. (2014). PLUGGING THE ATTENTION DEFICIT: PERCEPTUAL LOAD COUNTERS INCREASED DISTRACTION IN ADHD. NEUROPSYCHOLOGY, 28(1), 91.
Objective: Increased vulnerability to extraneous distraction is a key symptom of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which may have particularly disruptive consequences. Here we apply Load Theory of attention to increase understanding of this symptom, and to explore a potential method for ameliorating it. Previous research in nonclinical populations has highlighted increased perceptual load as a means of improving the ability to focus attention and avoid distraction. The present study examines whether adults with ADHD can also benefit from conditions of high perceptual load to improve their focused attention abilities. Method:We tested adults with ADHD and age- and IQ-matched controls on a novel measure of irrelevant distraction under load, designed to parallel the form of distraction that is symptomatic of ADHD. During a letter search task, in which perceptual load was varied through search set size, participants were required to ignore salient yet entirely irrelevant distractors (colorful images of cartoon characters) presented infrequently (10% of trials). Results: The presence of these distractors produced a significantly greater interference effect on the search RTs for the adults with ADHD compared with controls, p = .005, ηp2 = .231. Perceptual load, however, significantly reduced distractor interference for the ADHD group and was as effective in reducing the elevated distractor interference in ADHD as it was for controls. Conclusions:These findings clarify the nature of the attention deficit underlying increased distraction in ADHD, and demonstrate a tangible method for overcoming it.
ROBERTSON, D. J. (2012). THE CURIOUS CASE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES AND PERCEPTUAL LOAD. THE PSYCHOLOGIST, 25, 472-475.
It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognise, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which are vital. Otherwise your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated (Conan Doyle, 1894/2001, p.391.) The preceding quote is elegant enough to have been written by William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890) as an explanation of our essential cognitive ability to focus our attention on relevant goal-directed information, while ignoring irrelevant and potentially distracting noise. Yet it is actually a description of the deductive processes of that most extraordinary of consulting detectives, Mr Sherlock Holmes. For Holmes, the ability to select only those relevant clues that are required to solve a case, while ignoring irrelevant and extraneous information that could cloud his reasoning, is an indispensible element of his expertise. Psychological research has made great progress over the last 60 years in understanding the cognitive and perceptual mechanisms that govern this essential selective process.
SCHWARZKOPF, D. S., ROBERTSON, D. J., SONG, C., BARNES, G. R., & REES, G. (2012). THE FREQUENCY OF VISUALLY INDUCED GAMMA-BAND OSCILLATIONS DEPENDS ON THE SIZE OF EARLY HUMAN VISUAL CORTEX. JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE, 32(4), 1507-1512.
The structural and functional architecture of the human brain is characterized by considerable variability, which has consequences for visual perception. However, the neurophysiological events mediating the relationship between interindividual differences in cortical surface area and visual perception have, until now, remained unknown. Here, we show that the retinotopically defined surface areas of central V1 and V2 are correlated with the peak frequency of visually induced oscillations in the gamma band, as measured with magnetoencephalography. Gamma-band oscillations are thought to play an important role in visual processing. We propose that individual differences in macroscopic gamma frequency may be attributed to interindividual variability in the microscopic architecture of visual cortex.