Yes, it’s a story about a guy from another planet with near-limitless strength who can fly around in his Underoos. But one of the hardest things to believe about Superman is the fact that no one recognizes him solely because he wears glasses while off duty. Turns out, that disguise might actually work a lot better than you’d think.
CNN reports a new study that shows even a tiny change to a person's appearance (i.e. sliding on some fake glasses) can significantly alter your ability to recognize them. Along with answering the Superman Question, this study could also have implications in everything from facial recognition tech to passports.
The study worked like this: Researchers showed 59 participants side-by-side images and asked them to determine whether each shot depicted the same person. The images included people wearing glasses, people not wearing glasses, and images of someone wearing glasses paired with someone who wasn’t. On average, the participants were able to recognize it was the same person (in a side-by-side comparison) 80 percent of the time. Not bad, right?
But that success rate dropped 6 percent when they compared them side-by-side when comparing it to someone wearing glasses and someone not wearing glasses.
"A 6 percent drop in performance may not sound like much, but 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 percent drop in accuracy equates to 6 million misidentifications," study co-author Kay Ritchie told CNN. "We hope this work can be used to inform future policies on face identification, particularly given the discrepancy between different forms of photo ID when it comes to wearing glasses."
So yeah, the odds are against Clark Kent being about to keep up the ruse forever (especially if there’s a pic of Superman nearby). But we at least know it’s not completely insane.