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Face Blindness - prosopagnosia
Face blind people often memorize short descriptions of people they
expect to meet. Also, I can't recognize people from their
pictures. Don't know why, but a picture or a drawing of a person
doesn't really look like a person to me. And I confuse people
that other people tell me don't look anything alike... we have two real
estate agents we work with. Both large-boned, older white men,
but other than that, they look completely different, according to my
primary. When I see one, I usually know it's one of the real
estate agents, but can't tell which one. I also don't recognize
myself when I see myself on video tape. I often don't recoginize
when I'm looking in a mirror if I don't know it's a mirror.
It can really suck sometimes. I've learned to just look at
everyone like I recognize them, because it's really upset friends when
I didn't recognize them ("looked right through them, as they said")
but once I found out that it was a "real thing" - not just some
failing on my part, like I wasn't trying hard enough, it got much
and this place has some tests -
http://www.prosopagnosia.com/interactive/. I wouldn't
put too much faith in the tests, though - it's not something that's
easy to test for. Generally, if you are reading a list of
"symptons" and find yourself saying "oh, that sounds like me" then you
probably are face blind.
It's NOT that I'm bad with
A few years ago, I finally figured out "what was wrong with me" - I'm
not a loser with a bad memory, my problem is NOT that I don't pay
enough attention to people. I have face blindness! It was such a relief
to find out that it's not just me and that it's a real thing!
do have pretty good coping skills for dealing with this, but sometimes
it really bites me in the ass. I once didn't recognize my live-in
boyfriend of five years after he got a bad hair cut. I've had to
potentially good relationships meet an early death because I didn't
recognize then the next day after spending an evening with them, so
they decided I was a snobby bitch. Overall, though, I've managed to
deal with this pretty well. I'm good at avoiding calling someone by
name. I memorize style of clothing, length and color of hair, height,
etc. for people I meet. My live-in will usually remember to greet
someone by name so I know who I'm talking to. I still get very nervous
when I have to meet a friend in a crowded place and always hope s/he'll
find me first.
Kurt Vonnegut has face blindness
In Lois Duncan's autobiography - Chapters, My Growth as a Writer, she
says she has no visual memory. But, to me it sounds more like she has
face blindness and just doesn't know what that is. Here's an excerpt:
I meet someone new and analyze his looks, telling myself, "He has red
hair and freckles and a hook nose," I will remember the description,
but I won't be able to bring to mind a picture of the face.
If two people fit the same description, I'm lost. I can't tell them
may sound like a minor problem, even an amusing one, but it can make
life a nightmare. My first year in junior high school, I built a
reputation as a snob because I never spoke to people in the halls or
lunchroom. I wasn't sure enough of their identities to risk it. What if
I thought I knew them and really didn't. What if I called them by the
I had the same problem with teachers. I can recall
one traumatic occasion when Mr. Strode, the principal, stuck his head
out into the hall as I was passing and said, "Lois, if you're headed
for the lunchroom, would you please ask Mrs. Romero to stop by my
office for a moment?"
Mrs. Romero was my math teacher. She had
brown hair and glasses. Miss Jacobis, my science teacher, also had
brown hair and glasses. When I reached the cafeteria, two women with
glasses and brown hair were sitting together at one of the tables.
Despite the fact that I had taken classes from them for a whole
semester, I couldn't tell them apart."
This was the first
person with face blindness, other than myself, that I'd ever heard of.
Up until that point, I thought it was just me. I read her autobigraphy
when I was about 13 - I've always loved her books - and it was great to
know I wasn't the only person who memorized descriptions for everyone
she meets. I still do that, it's the most important skill for dealing
w/ face blindness that I've found. It does make things tricky when
people get hair cuts or shave or grow facial hair, but most of the
time, it's very effective.
In the course of my travels, one thing detracts from my enjoyment of
meeting people. I suffer from an embarrassing, curiously humbling
neurological condition called prosopagnosia, which, translated,
means I have problems in face recognition. I used to think it was due
to some mental laziness, and I tried desperately to memorize the faces
of people I met so that, if I saw them the next day, I would recognize
them. I had no trouble with those who had obvious physical
characteristics -- unusual bone structure, beaky nose, extreme beauty
or the opposite. But with other faces I failed, miserably. Sometimes I
knew that people were upset when I did not immediately recognize them
-- certainly I was. And because I was embarrassed, I kept it to myself.
by chance, when talking to a friend recently, I found that he suffered
from the same problem. I could not believe it. Then I discovered my own
sister, Judy, knew similar embarrassment. Perhaps others did, also. I
wrote to the well-known neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. Had he ever heard
of such an unusual condition? Not only had he heard of it -- he
suffered from it himself! And his situation was far more extreme than
mine. He sent me a paper, titled "Developmental memory impairment:
faces and patterns," by Christine Temple.
Even now that I know I
need not feel guilty, it is still difficult to know how to cope -- I
can hardly go 'round telling everyone I meet that I probably won't know
them from Adam the next time I see them! Or maybe I should? It is
humiliating, because most people simply think I'm making an elaborate
excuse for my failure to recognize them and that, obviously, I don't
really care about them at all -- so they are hurt. I have to cope as
best I can -- usually by pretending to recognize everyone! And while
that can have its awkward moments too, it's not nearly as bad as the
other way around.
Goodall, Jane & Berman, Phillip L. (1999). Reason for Hope: A
Spiritual Journey. New York: Warner Books, Inc.
"I need you to find me at the airport -- I won't be able to spot
you, because I have prosopagnosia, which is the inability to
"I have trouble remembering what name goes with what face too.
Have you tried paying more attention?"
"No, it's not even remotely the same thing. Do you go around
telling color-blind people to try harder to see colors?
The reason this condition is often called 'face-blindness'
is that I can't even _perceive_ the face in the first place.
My memory is just fine, my eyes are just fine, my cognition
is just fine, I simply can't tell your face from, say, your ass."
"Oh. So, did you have to go to one of those special shools
with all the other retarded kids in your area?"
(Sound of someone getting their face broken, or maybe their ass)