Thursday, September 8, 2016

SCIENCE Proves the CLARK KENT Disguise Can Work

Everybody knows who Superman is; after all, he’s one of the world’s most famous superheroes. And we all know his shtick with his civilian alter ego where he goes about as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent by wearing a pair of glasses, yet somehow manages to keep most people from ever recognizing him. Nowadays we might tend to laugh at the concept of his transformation; heck even a recent story arc on the current Superman comics sort of touched on that very subject. But wonder of wonders, would you believe that a new scientific study proves that the flimsy glasses might just actually work as an effective way to hide an identity?

Okay, I guess we should be specific. It only works if the person is someone you don’t know, a total stranger even. Well, CNN reports that a psychology research team from the University of York in the UK has published their study August 21 showing how even minute changes in facial appearance can significantly lessen our ability to recognize people.

Their experiment detailed 59 participants who were each showed a series of side-by- side pictures, their objective being to determine if the two persons shown were one and the same. The paired photos came in three categories: one where both pictures showed people wearing glasses, one where both showed people without glasses, and last wherein one picture had a bespectacled person and the other was not. The participants were given all the time they wanted to make their guess on whether a given pair was actually the same person or not.

Comparing results from the three categories, when it came to the pictures where both persons had glasses or both without, the study participants scored an 80% accuracy in guessing correct if the persons were the same or not. But when it came to the paired photos where one had glasses and the other not, the accuracy dropped by 6, to 72% overall. At first glance it may not seem like a big deal but the researchers deem it “statistically significant”.

Why? Study co-author Kay Ritchie puts it this way: “If you consider the number of people who go through passport control at Atlanta International airport every year -- over 100 million last year -- a 6% drop in accuracy equates to 6 million misidentifications." Now that sounds like a whole lot.

In preparing the images used, the research team had photographs of people in natural poses and various backgrounds like seen on social media. That meant no “identification card” style pictures.

The suggestion of the study results seem to be that we do find it difficult to match faces if the person involved is someone we don’t know personally. Add glasses on top of that, and recognition just gets even worse.

Wow. Superman had it spot one when he decided to wear glasses as Clark Kent. It does work.

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