Quick sum-up: propagnosia, or face blindness, is when someone has difficulty recognizing faces. Apparently there’s a special center in the brain that’s just for identifying faces. If the special center’s out of whack, the regular vision circuits just don’t cut it. All faces look pretty much alike.(My favorite example, explanation, and allegory is a story about stones).
Prosopagnosia can be inherited, or come from brain damage. There’s a wide range of severity- I read about one boy who couldn’t recognize his parents. Someone else may just get confused when they meet a coworker at a grocery store.
So, go ahead, ask The Girl With No Social Life Because She Never Remembers Anyone.
Animals are way easier than people. They come in more colors, for one
I can recognize people I’ve known for a while. Like, if someone’s my roomate, I’ll figure them out within the month. My nuclear family, some neighbors I see very often, people with unusual facial figures, old friends- that sort of thing. And every once in a while I’ll meet someone and recognize them instantly and I have no idea why.
People I chat with for a few minutes in the hall? No way (although these people all seem to remember me). People I’m in the same class with? Probably not, unless it’s a small class. I may remember their names in the context of the classroom, but I’ll have no clue who they are in the cafeteria.
I do tend to learn faces if I see them on a very frequent basis, but by that time I’m too embarassed to ask them their name again.
I wish people were color-coded. Clothes are the most distinctive feature most people have for me. And hair- red hair’s always a good reminder. Doing it in a different style throws me off, though. Sometimes I know people’s voices, sometimes they’re not much help. Body stature is good because it doesn’t change (at least, not overnight). F’rinstance, I can tell my rabbi across the room without glasses, because he’s sort of pear-shaped. When I was in middle school, I classified my peers into “giants”, “wisps”, and “normals”.
My best strategy- don’t laugh- is to make friends with people who really stand out. In high school, I was good friends with a girl who was six feet tall, with red hair and blue eyes. She had trouble with names, too, so the reintroductions didn’t get awkward. Now, at college, I’m close with a girl with some type of dwarfism. I figure, most people are nice, so I’ll likely get along with any of them. Might as well appraoch someone I’ll recognize. And if there’s a potential BFF somewhere in the crowd, we’ll probably meet eventually.
Very interesting! I think I’ve got a mild case of this: I’m terrible at recognizing people, and the stone metaphor really hit home with me, but still I can work at recognizing people, and I do. When I get a new class of students, for the first couple of weeks I’m likely to make genuine errors in identifying them–if there are three white boys with short brown hair, for example, it’ll take me awhile before I can sort out which is which. And I have triplet cousins, non-identical, where it took me years to be able to tell the girls apart. They’re 16 now, and I still worry I’ll make a mistake.
I found out about this a couple of years ago when I didn’t recognize someone. This was someone I’d been in a classs with for three years. She’d totally changed her hair, and I didn’t have time to take a good look at her and hear her voice and figure out who she was before someone else put me on the spot and I had to say that I didn’t know who she was. It’s true. I ddin’t… at that instant. I hadn’t had enough time to deduce who she was.
Imagine my surprise when my counselor told me that he pretty much recognizes people immediately, perceiving their different qualities and putting them together into a whole all at once. Apparently this is normal?
This can backfire too. last summer I met a beautiful lady from Jamaica. Among other things, I figured she’d be easy to pick out of a crowd. So I was on the way to meet her, and I got off the subway. I thought she might be arriving at the same time from the other direction, so as I got to the bottom of the escalator, I turned and looked back to see whether she was behind me.
There were three people who looked like her on the escalator. :smack:
I eventually found her when she recognized me (she saw me from a distance at the food court). Admittedly, she was on the lower level where I wasn’t looking, and she saw me at the upper railing.
Last week someone said Hi to me on the street and I had no idea who it was. Still don’t.
And last weekend visiting my friend’s church, I didn’t recongnize someone I’m very fond of. The blue sweater threw me. I was looking at someone who reminded my of my aunt… before I saw her recognize me.
I rely to a surprising extent on seeing people recognizing me.
I’d like to know whether there’s a way to formally measure face blindness. It would explain a lot about my life. Is facial recognition something I didn’t develop well in childhood becaise I’m so nearsighted?
It takes me a while to be able to remember somebody. I can’t do it if I’ve just met them once, unless they’ve got some very distinctive feature. If I see them once a year at a family reunion or something like that, it’s hopeless- that’s not enough time for me to remember someone later on.
For a while, I worked at a place where you had to wear a name badge at all times. It was heaven, I tell you. If I were ruler of the world, everybody would have to wear a name badge at all times when they weren’t at home.
I don’t like black-and-white movies, because I find the characters hard to tell apart. The different colors of hair and clothing provide me an essential cue. It’s even worse when it’s a black-and-white movie where all the men wear suits- then I really can’t tell them apart. Even when the movie is in color and everybody’s not dressed the same, I have trouble, just like I do in real life. I generally prefer reading a book to watching a movie, because I don’t confuse characters’ names like I do faces.
Yup, me too. I just can’t seem to watch most filmed entertainment - anything with an actual plot - because I can’t tell who’s who. I’m better in real life with the three dimensions and all, but I’m still one of those people who don’t really know who they’re talking to at all times.
Same with me, except that in addition to having trouble remembering names I also have major difficulty describing someone even if I know them well and have known them for decades. I often wonder what the police reaction would be if I was a witness to a serious crime and was asked to describe the culprit.
Wow, I’m amazed by how many people are stepping up to say they also have some degree of face-blindness. Mine isn’t as severe as what Malleus, Incus, Stapes! is describing, but I do have a great deal of trouble recognizing faces.
I remember the moment when it became the most obvious. I was with a friend (“Mary”) at a party, and I wanted to ask another friend (“Jenny”) if she could give me a ride home from the party. I must have asked Mary three times “Is that Jenny over there?” “Are you sure that’s Jenny?”, when finally she said, “You must be like my mom, she can’t recognize faces.” Jenny had changed her hairstyle. Bingo.
I’ve also discovered that if I don’t see someone for a while, I can’t picture their face in my mind. Right now I’m trying to imagine my family (I live away from home) and the images I get are very vague. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them, but it’s not by my family’s faces that I recognize them.
This is amazing. I’m 51 years old, and all this time I thought it was just me.
I stand out in a crowd. I’m 6’4" tall; I have a deep, very recognizable voice; I own a retail store; I’m the ER (equivalent of “president”) at the Elks; and I emcee numerous events in town. I also used to teach college, and I’m a published author. Everybody seems to know me.
In contrast, someone can walk into my bookstore, talk to me for several minutes about a book, come back in an hour later, and I won’t remember who they are. I run into people out of context, and I know I’ve met them, but even if I’ve known them for years, I won’t know who they are. The few people I’ve talked to about this seem to think I just don’t try hard enough. It’s VERY embarrassing, and I’ve basically cope with it by treating everyone I run into like a friend I’ve just recognized (oh, I eventually get to know folks – and there are a lot of people I know and recognize, but for every person I know, there seem to be a dozen that know me).
So, to the questions (since this is an “ask the…” thread): what coping mechanisms have you developed? Do you tell people about the problem, or not? Do people “get it” when you explain it, or do they figure you’re just making excuses for being rude or not putting in the effort to remember?
It’s cool having someone else to talk to about this.
Or the 90’s show Picket Fences? One episode had a man who could not recognize faces due to a brain tumor. He shot his brother believing he was an intruder, or SO he said. His brother, incidentally, was shot sneaking into the house in the middle of the night because he’d been having an affair with the other man’s wife. So, Malleus, we’ll be onto you, and we’ll know you knew about the affair and set the whole thing up, and we’ll be there when you finally have the tumor removed while under sodium pentathol and you laugh softly and confess…after you’ve already been acquitted and can’t be retried.
(Note: The above recapping of an episode on an old tv show is not meant to imply Malleus would, in actuality, shoot anyone, even if they were having an affair with her spouse, nor is it meant to imply we would enjoy her trial.)
I scored borderline faceblind. I was actually surprised because I really think I’ve got at least average face recognition capabilities. At the end of the test, I was just randomly guessing. The test seems suspect to me in that all the heads are computer generated images of a bald white dude. I do have problems identifying generic white dudes who have no distinguishing characteristics who I’ve only met a couple of times. I have a real problem recognizing distant acquaintances when they are wearing sunglasses. Also, I’m a minority with a fairly bizarre persona who is more easily recognized than a generic white dude.
My daughter has trouble telling men apart. She says they mostly have “generic man-face” and unless they have unusual hair or tattoos or bones through their noses, they kind of all meld together. Let’s hope she never has to pick one out of a police lineup.
I’ve posted about this before. I have it, on a mild/moderate level of severity. My brother’s is a bit worse than mine. It was also such a relief for us also when we found out there was a name for it, and found the site with stones, etc. My brother regularly tells co-workers and others about it so he can explain why he has appeared to ignore them. The trouble is most people don’t tell you so you never know…
That must be really difficult. Some of you guys have said it can cause awkward social situations. Is there a reason you don’t share the diagnosis with people? I don’t mean “Hi I’m Malleus and I have prosopagnosia” but if someone told me within the first couple times meeting them that they had this I would be sure to say in the future something like “Let’s meet at the Starbucks at 1:00. I’ll be wearing a red hoodie and carrying a black leather purse” and I’d be sure to look for you instead of waiting for you to find me.