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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 easier.

and this place has some tests -  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 names!
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!

I 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

Lois Duncan::

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:

"If 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 apart.

This 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 wrong names?

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.

Jane Goodall:

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.

Quite 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.

pp. xiii-xiv

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
recognize faces..."

"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)