Prosopagnosia

Prosopagnosia is face-blindness or difficulty recognising faces. Prosopagnosia can sometimes compound social difficulties and make one confused, embarrassed and seemingly unintelligent, impolite or neglectful. There seems to be many degrees of it, from mild to severe.

Some are literally face-blind and can’t even recognise their own family members.

“When I have agreed to meet a friend in some cafe or something, most probably I will not be able to see very easy where he/she may be sitting because all people look similar to me. I even looked over my own boyfriend several times when I had to meet him : )

“I distinguish people mostly by their silhouette more than by their specific looks. When I know someone, I recognize them by their way of moving mostly.”

Lida, Aspie from the Netherlands

“I don’t think I percieve good looks the same as most people because I am (probably) face blind.  Almost everyone looks “average” to me.  Even most movie and TV stars look only average or a little above average to me.  Faces generally look average to me unless there is some kind of major deformity.  If I percieve a face as being good looking it is generally because of really nice hair or an attractive hat. When I judge looks it mostly based on things like hair, clothing and accesories, body.

– Ilah, probable Aspie from USA

More common is to have difficulties recognizing people one doesn’t know so well, especially out of their usual context. Many on the Neurodiversity Spectrum have such difficulties.

“I am learning that if I see someone outside the usual venue of where I usually see them, I don’t recognize them. Once, I went to court to argue a motion.  I had been on the case for a year and half.  When the motion was over, and as I and the other attorney were starting to leave the court room, a lady tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could speak to me.

‘How can I help you?’

She said, ‘I’m Lucy, your client?’

I was used to seeing her in my office, not at court.”

Anne Marie, ADHD/Aspie attorney from USA

“I don’t recognize people outside of their usual environment until I hear their voice.  The most embarrassing for me has to be my children.  The teacher will be pointing to the child and I cannot recognize them until they talk to me… I see a child but not MY child.  Sometimes I remember what they wore and recognize the clothes, but I still cannot recognize their faces until they speak.  The teachers seem to get annoyed at me when this happens… or impatient maybe… they keep pointing and saying “right there!” and say it louder after a couple of times… which I understand as getting angry.

“Meanwhile I CAN recognize their teachers because that is the only place I have seen them.  In an encounter with a teacher even in the parking lot of the school, or the lobby, or worse yet at the first IEP meeting of the year, and I do not recognize them… I am so nervous already at an IEP meeting that I can’t even recognize their voice until they introduce themselves or say something about how my child was doing when they left the classroom… only in the classroom can I recognize the teacher.  If I am used to seeing another child’s parent in the classroom and see them in the lobby I do not recognize them either.”

Wendi, Aspie from USA

I am only mildly face-blind. For me, it’s the everyday people whom I don’t know so well that cause the most trouble – especially if they are bland looking and lack defining features that stick out compared to others.

When unexpectedly meeting people out of their ordinary context (e.g. bumping into a neighbour at the grocery store) I also get confused because I am usually more interested in architecture than people, so the environment provides more cues than faces do. When I pass my neighbours’ house, I know that it’s them living there so I don’t have to look to closely at them and memorise their looks; I just nod hello when walking by. But when I meet them somewhere else, I’m unsure if it’s really them, and usually don’t even see them unless they said hello first, since my brain tends to automatically filter out people as irrelevant distractions when I’m out and about.

– Ing, site-author

“If I get used to seeing someone in a certain context then I might not recognize them outside of it. I’ve actually walked right past classmates at the mall because I wasn’t used to seeing them outside of the class setting.”

William, Aspie from USA

Some learn to use other senses or clues for recognising people.

“Some people recognize by smell and the way the people move, too… mannerisms.  I know someone who recognizes people by a combo of shoes and smell.  I have studied some people’s faces hoping to remember them and still cannot recognize them in different circumstances.  It is like I cannot access a part of my brain until I hear the person’s voice.”

– Wendi, Aspie from USA

“Because facial expressions don’t mean anything to many of us, we don’t pay attention to people’s faces.  Instead, we try to get meaning from what a person says. And so when we meet people on the street, we don’t recognize them by sight but by name, voice, vocabulary, word choice, and sentence structure.”

Tom, Aspie from USA

“The way I get around this is by picking something distinctive about that person, other than clothes. The could be a particular facial feature, their build, the way they walk, or whatever. Usually it is more than just one thing. This kind of gives me a focus, something to jar the memory.

“The other thing I do is that every time I would look at that person, and their feature, was to say their name in my head. That way, when I would see them again, the name and face would be linked. I will say that it isn’t always their name that I used. Sometimes I will use my nickname for them instead. (Some people get mental nicknames since I do have some trouble with names. Just have to remember not to slip since not all nicknames are kind or might be offensive in other ways.)”

William, Aspie from USA

Sometimes not recognising people can be due to focusing on other things than on faces, or not wanting to look too closely at people one doesn’t know too well.

Friends, relatives and familiar celebrities I usually recognise quickly due to having seen them so many times and in various settings and clothes. Familiar celebrity faces are also relatively easy to recognise because they often look more distinct and I can study them in detail on TV without being rude or risk having my interest in their facial features being mistaken for an invitation to interact.

When in direct contact I usually avoid looking at people’s faces and instead tend to focus on their hair, colouring, voice, gait and dress style. When people change their hair style or -colour, glasses, beard, typical dress style etc., I sometimes don’t recognize them. I once failed to even recognize my best friend because she had dyed her hair darker and put it up in a style I’ve never seen her in before. At a funeral, I didn’t recognise my cousin’s usually casual girlfriend when she had dressed up in a suit and lady-like hair style, until she talked and I recognised her voice and accent.

Ing, site-author

LINKS

Prosopagnosia Wikipedia

Prosopagnosia.com

Face Blind! free online book by Bill Choisser

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4 Comments »

  1. Anonymous said,

    I’m face-blind enough to appreciate “context”. It’s very rare for me to recognise someone out of context or from aboard a car as I drive. There are however fun things about being face blind. One is having a self-identity that is user-definable. The inverse is a costume party in which face sighted people can’t tell others apart while you can.

    My favourite traits are hair and voice + accent. Accent is normally stable as people won’t gain or lose an accent unless they put in the needed effort, which is great for most people. The optimum accent to have and use is one that everyone can recognise but is hard to duplicate. In Chicago, Australian is the accent to use! (Melbourne Victoria, to be exact) Aussie is also very rare as well.

    Need a cure for racism? A quarter century ago, I developed a DIY version of John Howard Griffin of “Black Like Me” fame. I had a bunch of fun doing that stunt, given amorphous self-identity. You configure yourself, and “slip into character” like an actor. Amorphous self-identity can be fun!

  2. I recently ran into an old friend from college (in Pennsylvania) who happened to be in Vermont. I had NO IDEA who he was and it took me a full day to figure it out from rehashing our exact conversation (I am *relatively* adept at interacting when I am not sure who someone is…) over and over. Thanks, eidetic memory 😉

  3. mel c said,

    To be honest some of the people who have gone up to me and spoken to me as old friends I STILL don’t recognise, which is extremely uncomfortable. I’ve had these problems many times, but then considering I don’t have a huge number of friends(in terms of real friends who I would have reason to remember, probably about ten) I haven’t experienced this problem as much lately. It’s funny, some of the pictures of old friends I see on facebook, I always find myself surprised by someone and looking back I wouldn’t have recognised that person after the haircut/dye, or added/lost weight etc., in person. And when I’m in a crowd I need someone to actually talk to me before I notice them, because in the middle of a crowd although I strain myself trying to catch a glimpse of them I just can’t recognise them 😦 and yes the context does make a difference as well.

  4. congospruce said,

    I am able to recognize people at work based on body shape, hair and where they sit. At holiday parties I have to just say hi to people without saying a name because I might get it wrong since they aren’t where they normally sit. I did it once. She was someone I saw every day, multiple times, and I thought she was someone else. I was horrified. I don’t tell very many people about my problem but I did explain it to her so that she would understand and not be offended.
    We also have about 15 sales reps that are in the office only about one day a month or less. I have a very close friend that I email when I see someone that seems like I should recognize as a sales rep and that friend will tell me who it is so I can say hi by name.
    I have had times when I walked right past my wife of 15 years in a public place like a mall, etc. She understands and doesn’t get frustrated with me.
    I have a 10 year old daughter that I am paranoid about when in public places. I memorize her clothing so that I can make a quick ID if she isn’t right near me. It is a major source of stress for me. Probably the only hard-core stress that this causes. What if I didn’t recognize her if there were other girls nearby? I know it sounds ridiculous. But it almost makes me cry with anxiety.
    Once, at a restaurant, my wife noticed a set of identical twins and just casually mentioned it to me. They weren’t sitting side by side. I looked at one and then looked at the other back and forth a couple of times and could not see that they were twins. That really surprised my wife that it was that bad.


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