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Face recognition: impactful research

Dr Sarah Bate established the Centre for Face Processing Disorders at BU in 2012, initially with the aim of conducting research into prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness. Since this time, the research centre has gone from strength to strength, extending its expertise across all areas of face recognition, most recently focusing on so-called super recognisers.

The centre is a fantastic example of fusion, with BU students actively encouraged to get involved in sophisticated research projects, the team’s expertise feeding back into their teaching and their research feeding into various areas of professional practice.

Sarah’s work on face blindness has raised the profile of the condition and demonstrated that it is much more widespread than previously thought. She also succeeded getting it recognised by the NHS, and is continuing to conduct valuable research into the causes of the condition, as well as coping strategies for those who suffer from it.

As well as informing professional practice in the NHS, Sarah’s research feeds back into her teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate level; she has even written one of the foremost textbooks on the area of face recognition.

“We encourage our students to take on projects with links to our overriding research aims, rather than the kind of small-scale project you’d typically do at undergraduate level especially. It allows them to do more sophisticated projects, they’re getting better training, experiencing what it’s like to work as part of a larger team, and they have natural mentors,” Sarah explains.

More recently, Sarah and the team at the centre have been conducting research into super recognisers - people with exceptional face matching abilities. This work has important implications when it comes to security, with the Metropolitan and Dorset Police now collaborating with BU’s academics and students to learn more about super recognition and how people with these abilities can assist the force.

“Our collaborations with Dorset Police and the Metropolitan Police are a really nice demonstration of fusion - particularly the Met Police, as their super recogniser unit is a research partner.

“We have officers from that unit coming to work with us regularly and they’re putting what we find back into their professional practice. Some of the officers even gave a lecture to our undergraduate students about their field,” she adds.