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More about Prosopagnosia

Posted 2006.12.01 1.00 in Family/Friends

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.