I used to be a very poor face reader, perhaps somewhere in the bottom decile. I am now approximately one standard deviation above average, and this is probably due to (in the following order) 1. practice reading faces according to Koanic’s theories, 2. learning Game principles from Heartiste and r/K from Anonymous Conservative, 3. reading popsci books about body language and facial expressions, and 4. developing several theories of my own in these areas. Even if all these theories are complete bullshit, there has been an objective benefit to obsessive engagement with them. My overall social intelligence has increased from a level suggesting retardation to a level significantly above average. My qualitative assessment of my own abilities puts me at about the 80th percentile, due to the conjunction of newfound instincts (like face-reading) with a deep intellectual understanding of social dynamics.
I used to have great difficulty distinguishing between certain types of faces, to such an extent that I would confuse new acquaintances with each other and even forget that I’d previously met them. Recently, Lorien posted a test for this skill and I scored a 63, approximately one standard deviation above average (according to the testing site, “better than 7 out of 10”). This was after about five years of practicing edenic face-reading.
I also used to be very bad at reading emotions from faces. In high school, I did one of those eye-reading social intelligence tests as a freshman in high school and got a flat zero. I only answered two questions out of 25 and got them both wrong (mistaking “contempt” for “happy” and mistaking “pity” for “sad”). I just took another such test and scored 28/36, putting me in the 64th percentile.
Similarly, Polymath did an informal experiment to explore whether Altrugenics posters or Apricity posters were better at guessing which morphs corresponded to which professions. Though the sample size was small, it suggested that face-reading practitioners (Altrugenics) were better at this task.
I believe we’re looking at a situation similar to the development of language in humans. Psychologists and neurologists take it as given, generally, that all humans develop the ability to understand spoken language without any formal training, at about the same age. This is a normal part of early development, assuming the child is not somehow prevented from listening to other humans speaking. This is not true for reading and writing, which generally need to be taught. If a person isn’t taught to read and write, they aren’t going to pick it up instinctually*.
Adding to this commonsense understanding, there was a very interesting experiment accidentally performed in Nicaragua:
Before the 1970s, there was no deaf community in Nicaragua. Deaf people were largely isolated from each other and mostly used simple home sign systems and gesture (‘mímicas’) to communicate with their families and friends, though there were several cases of idioglossia among deaf siblings. The conditions necessary for a language to arise occurred in 1977, when a center for special education established a program initially attended by 50 deaf children. The number of students at the school (in the Managua neighborhood of San Judas) grew to 100 by 1979, the year of the Sandinista revolution.
In 1980, a vocational school for deaf adolescents was opened in the area of Managua called Villa Libertad. By 1983 there were over 400 deaf students enrolled in the two schools. Initially, the language program emphasized spoken Spanish and lipreading, and the use of signs by teachers was limited to fingerspelling (using simple signs to sign the alphabet). The program achieved little success, with most students failing to grasp the concept of Spanish words.
The children remained linguistically disconnected from their teachers, but the schoolyard, the street, and the school bus provided fertile ground for them to communicate with each other. By combining gestures and elements of their home-sign systems, a pidgin-like form and a creole-like language rapidly emerged. They were creating their own language. This “first-stage” pidgin has been called Lenguaje de Signos Nicaragüense (LSN) and is still used by many who attended the school at this time.
Staff at the school, unaware of the development of this new language, saw the children’s gesturing as mime and as a failure to acquire Spanish. Unable to understand what the children were saying to each other, they asked for outside help. In June 1986, the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education contacted Judy Kegl, an American Sign Language linguist from MIT. As Kegl and other researchers began to analyze the language, they noticed that the young children had taken the pidgin-like form of the older children to a higher level of complexity, with verb agreement and other conventions of grammar. This more complex sign language is now known as Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua (ISN).
I believe the development of face-reading ability in aspies is similar in nature. This suggests that 1) aspies are born with the ability to read faces, 2) development is disabled somehow by an environmental factor (comparable to deafness), and 3) this ability can be developed synthetically in later life through engagement and tangential learning. Arguably, my face-reading abilities are now as nuanced as most high-functioning adult whites, although still much lower than my IQ would predict. It is also likely that a battery of tests would show extremely asynchronous development, as is typically the case for autodidacts in any field of study.
Furthermore, this indicates that face reading has strong similarities with language use, potentially including grammar. I believe it is subject to most or all of the rules of symbolic communication, including abstract principles like Sapir-Whorf. This means that relatively static facial features (bone structure) and dynamic facial expressions are interpreted in the same way as spoken language, with both semantics and prosody. It also means that we can use facial expressions to help us categorize information that we take in, in the same way that a child who can’t distinguish between cats and dogs will learn the words “cat” and “dog” and thereafter distinguish between them effortlessly. This may even be true of facial bone structure, in the same way that our native grammar influences the way we think.
*I may be an exception to this rule, but I’ll have to ask my dad to recall the details because I don’t remember precisely how it happened.