I have a feeling that it can be learned. In the other thread I linked to, it sounded like the super-recognizer spent a lot of time looking at faces.
The new boy on the beat in Greenwich, in London’s southeast, he would spend hours looking at the worn Polaroid prints of neighborhood villains on the wall. “I was drawn to those pictures,” he said. “I used to look at them all the time.”
…Off duty, super recognition can be a curse. Recently, Constable Collins almost was punched. “I think sometimes I stare a bit too long, but I can’t help it,” he said. “This guy I was looking at was like: ‘What are you looking at? What are you looking at?’”
I read about another study that suggested that difficulty with reading emotions in autism or alexithymia might be due to not looking at faces or altered patterns of looking at faces. It’s mentioned here.
In 2013, we tested the ability of people with alexithymia, autism, both conditions or neither to recognize emotions from facial expressions. Again, we found that alexithymia is associated with problems in emotion recognition, but autism is not. In a 2012 study, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London found exactly the same results when they tested emotion recognition using voices rather than faces.
Recognizing an emotion in a face depends in part on information from the eyes and mouth. People with autism often avoid looking into other people’s eyes, which could contribute to their difficulty detecting emotions.
But again, we wanted to know: Which is driving gaze avoidance — autism or alexithymia? We showed movies to the same four groups described above and used eye-tracking technology to determine what each person was looking at in the movie.
We found that people with autism, whether with or without alexithymia, spend less time looking at faces than do people without autism. But when individuals who have autism but not alexithymia look at faces, they scan the eyes and mouth in a pattern similar to those without autism.
By contrast, people with alexithymia, regardless of their autism status, look at faces for a typical amount of time, but show altered patterns of scanning the eyes and mouth. This altered pattern might underlie their difficulties with emotion recognition.
It isn’t exactly the same thing, but it seems like looking at faces regularly could have an effect on how good a person is at reading or identifying faces.