People who are better at recognising faces tend to have more high-quality, close relationships, a study has found.

Researchers from Australia and America set out to explore the relationship between facial recognition, social networks and personality traits, running four tests involving 3,000 participants.

One element involved participants being challenged to memorise new faces or identify famous faces.

The research team found that the participants’ scores were linked to the number of close relationships they have.

Lead researcher psychologist Dr Laura Engfors, from the University of South Australia, said: “People who identified more faces typically had larger supportive social networks, which bodes well for their overall health and happiness.

“In concrete terms, the rise from the lowest (two) to the highest (28) number of faces that were successfully recognised on one test coincided with six additional close relationships, increasing from nine to 15. That’s an increase of two thirds and it is one extra strong social bond per four famous people recognised.”

Another key finding was that the ability to pick out faces has nothing to do with how sociable or extraverted someone is.

Dr Engfors said: “Our findings rule out the idea that being sociable means you’ll probably be great at recognising faces. It also helps to dispel the common misconception that not recognising someone means you are less sociable.

“The ability to recognise faces more easily also means people may develop relationships faster.

“Imagine you’ve had an engaging conversation with someone you have only just met. A few weeks later you run into them again. If you recognise them quickly and easily, it opens the door to develop the rapport you established in your first meeting, helping the relationship to progress.

“On the flip side, if you don’t recognise them, you’ve missed the chance to build on that initial interaction.”

Wellesley College psychologist and co-author Associate Professor Jeremy Wilmer added: “Understanding that not everyone finds it easy to recognise people can help us to support those around us in social interactions.

“Something as simple as name tags at a community barbecue or school event can make the difference between a connection built and a connection lost. Similarly, if you catch a flicker of uncertainty on someone’s face when you say hello, a subtle reminder to help them place you will be appreciated.”

Read more in Cognition.

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