Hmm this morning on CNN there was a bit on Prosopagnosia. I missed it but some folks were kind enough to provide a link to the related story on the CNN website.
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Yeah, still talking about Prosopagnosia. Why all the interest? Well, after first hearing about it, the more I learned, the more times I was thinking to myself “OMG – I have the same exact experiences” and “That’s me! That’s me too! I do that!”
Here’s one of many, many examples: I’ve always sucked at recognizing people I should have known. I once spent 2 or 3 minutes in conversation with a ‘stranger’ who’d simply approached me on the street. I thought he was just very friendly so I politely talked with him. After a couple minutes I figured the polite thing to do was ask his name. He responded with a shocked, perhaps offended look, before telling me. The ‘stranger’ whom I had ‘never met before’ was a long time family friend whom I had met many times before. He was also our town’s mayor and even if I didn’t know him personally I had seen him in the paper or on the tv many times too. This is not to say that I had forgotten him or who he was. Nothing of the sort. I simply could not recognize him by looking at his face.
Another example: A friend was showing me photographs he had taken at an event only a week previously. I pointed to one of the pictures and asked who that was, not recognizing the woman at all. My friend looked at me sort of lost, not knowing what to say. After a few more seconds I realized that the stranger I was pointing at, was me!
Another example: Went to a get-together, met someone interesting, and spent the evening talking with her about all kinds of stuff. After the get-together was over, we ended up talking another hour or so while standing outside next to our cars. Probably spent about 6 or 7 hours in total, at the get-together then afterwards, in this person’s presence. A week later when I encountered the person again, I had no idea they’re the one I’d had such a great evening talking with. I remembered the night, remembered the conversation, but had no memory of the face, of who it was. In fact it wasn’t till years later that I was talking with ‘someone else’ about something else and she mentioned in passing, that she remembered what a good conversation that was that we’d had, lasting so long out in the parking lot. I was stunned to realize it was her, stunned that I didn’t remember it had been her, but of course I’d learned long before, never to let on about such ‘blunders’. People are often offended when they feel that they have been ‘forgotten’.
I could go on with many other similar stories, but they’re similar so it’s not really necessary. The point is, I do not recognize people by their faces. I look at hair, at height, at outline (body shape), at clothes, at movement, and listen to voices. And the biggest thing for me is context. I meet work people at work environments, family at family settings, and friends at wherever we congregate. If someone turns up out of context, like a business acquaintence at the mall, I will almost certainly not recognize them, and simply walk on past as if they were a stranger. Unless they call out or the sort, then depending on how well I know them, I might recognize them, or I might have a brief friendly conversation then walk away wondering who they were.
Fortunately my Prosopagnosia is not extreem – I can recognize my immediate family and close friends almost all of the time. Although if I had arranged to meet, say, my parents at a restaurant or mall or something, until I actually find them I have always had a lot of anxiety that I’d be unable to spot them. And when looking for them, or anyone, I tend to really have to study everybody to find the ones I’m looking for. Until I knew about Prosopagnosia, I was very troubled by the fact that I couldn’t actually remember what my immediate family or closest friends look like – I mean, I can’t close my eyes and visualize their faces. Now I know why.
Anyhow, without further rambling, here’s two more websites about the condition:
Prosopagnosia.com is another good site with real-life experiences and some pages that try to illustrate what the condition is like, so normal folks can get a better grasp of it.
Prosopagnosia – My Favorite Word has a FAQ and some additional information about the condition.
There are already a lot of great resources on the net by Prosopagnosics about the disorder, and I have not yet decided whether or not I’m going to put together my own page too. For now, I’ll just stick with what I’ve put in my blog here about it. At the moment I don’t think I have anything new to add, having only just learned that a problem I’ve lived with all my life is actually a known medical condition, rather than just some unique failing in my character.
Here’s a really good page that also talks about life with prosopagnosia / face blindness:
Today’s word of the day is Prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia is also called face-blindness. A person who has prosopagnosia is unable to recognize people by their facial features, and instead must rely on other visual or non-visual clues in order to determine who someone is. Prosopagnosia is not an eye problem, Prosopagnosics can see like anyone else.
Basically there is a portion in the human brain that is designed specifically to process facial recognition. In normal people, they recognize friends and acquaintences in a fraction of a second. Prosopagnosics may take up to 10 seconds to figure out who someone is – and by then, the someone may have already left.
It is a not-well-understood condition, but it seems it can be both inheirited, or acquired. Typically it is more easily diagnosed in those who have acquired it later in life, due to brain injury or trauma, because a) they are already seeing doctors for the injury / trauma, and b) suddenly they can’t recognize anyone so they know something is wrong. Those who were born with it often don’t realize they have it, or that it is even a condition, because they have no frame of reference to compare it to. They may only know they’re not very good at recognizing people, and chalk it up to bad memory or poor social skills.
An article in 2005 in New Scientist states that a team of scientists in Germany have been able to prove that inheirited prosopagnosia does run in families. Inheirited prosopagnosia can sometimes (but not always) be found in conjunction with other conditions, such as Topographical Agnosia (not remembering places), Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and Aspergers Syndrome. Like many neurological disorders, prosopagnosia is not all-or-nothing — Prosopagnosics experience the disorder to varying degrees.
A very good e-book describing the condition, written by a Prosopagnosic, can be found here:
Face Blind, by Bill Choisser