Monday, January 17, 2011

Medical Mondays: Face Blindness



This post is bit inspired by last week's post on Capgras Delusion.

Prosopagnosia ("prosopon" [Greek] = face; "agnosia" = inability to recognize) is a disorder whereby people cannot recognize faces. It's also called face blindness. A person with this disorder may have a two hour, face-to-face conversation with a person, and then then next day pass them in the hallway and have no idea who they are.

It can occur following brain damage, but there is also an inherited version that occurs in a staggering 2.5 % of the population.

People with prosopagnosia must learn techniques to recognize faces, such as individual feature recognition, clothing clues, and other things to get by.

Some of the more famous sufferers include:

Chuck Close, a favorite artist of mine
Oliver Sacks, writer/neurologist
Tom Stoppard, British playwright
Jane Goodall, British primatologist/anthropologist

A bunch of great stuff is out there tackling this issue:

  • Here's a fantastic and funny Radiolab podcast starring Oliver Sacks and Chuck Close entitled "Strangers in the Mirror"

I'm happy to admit that I don't have prosopagnosia. I'm good with faces, but I'm terrible with names. *Sighs*

I've heard there are more books out on this subject in fiction and literature, so if you've heard of them, please share!

64 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

This must be really awful to deal with. You'd have to let everyone know so they won't be offended when you don't recognize them later!

My problem is meeting people outside their normal environment. If I usually see someone at my kids' school or at the bank or wherever and they're suddenly next to me in line at the movie theater or library, I'm at a loss. They look familiar, but they are now out of context and I just don't know!

Jess said...

How interesting! I wonder how that affected Jane Goodall's work with the chimpanzees...she was probably better recognizing them than people. Cool post :)

Laura Pauling said...

I can't imagine not being able to recognize faces! That would be so hard. And I'd never heard of it before. Amazing.

Tracy said...

Okay, just to make sure I understand. They can recognize faces as human faces. . . they just can't recall a face they've seen before, correct?

How frustrating that would be! How does a person with this disorder possibly have a dating life? I can understand how people you know understand, but how do you convince someone you're trying to date that it's not a line of bull?

Jennee said...

Wow, I've never heard of this and that picture is amazing! I'd hate having that since I'm one of those people that never forgets a face.

lbdiamond said...

I'm glad I don't have this, LOL! LOVE the pic, by the way--super fascinating. It's interesting how some would perceive this as a deficit and another would use it to be even more creative--love that! The Horse Whisperer (the book not the movie) details how the author (I'm blanking on the name, darn it!) is colorblind but it helps him to focus on the body language of horses, which in turn, allows him to communicate more subtlely with them. Wow.

I never knew it had such a high incidence...

Liza said...

This is sa new one for me. Imagine Jane Goodall, who learned to know all the chimps. Amazine.

Old Kitty said...

I didn't know about Jane Goodall's prosopagnosia - which makes her just even more amazing!!

Thanks for the links and info into this fascinating condition!! I remember faces but am very bad with names. I think it's more to do with me being old though! LOL! Take care
x

aspiring_x said...

wow! i've never heard of this one! now i understand why close's art is all about faces!

salarsenッ said...

Wow, that must be rough. I believe you, but my brain is totally rejecting the idea. How do they have personal lives?

Hey, I noticed my pledge badge. Thank you so much!

Carol Kilgore said...

Wow. I never heard of this - but I've never heard of a lot of things. I'm glad I don't have this. I remember most faces. Much easier than names.

Faith said...

I also remember faces easily and forget names. There were some people I went to university with and didn't remember their names until three years into the program... not on purpose, it just didn't stick!!! But, at least I could recognize them... "Hey there... you! Want to get lunch?" o_O

Lynn said...

How interesting. I didn't know Jane Goodall suffered from this. Now I want to read her biography. Great information Lydia!

The Red Angel said...

Eek, face blindness sounds awful :( I would hate not knowing whom I talked to last or what my family looks like.
*quiver*

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Munk Davis said...

Love at first sight... over and over again. Imagine.

Angela Felsted said...

Yes, I'd heard about Jane Goodall. Do you know if there's any link between face blindness and autism spectrum disorders?

I guess it's not the same thing as mind blindness, but in some ways it sounds kind of similar.

Candyland said...

Wow, that's interesting. That would be awful and embarrassing to have to deal with.

Magan said...

Wow this is one of the most interesting medical monday topics you've had! I had no idea that Chuck Close had this! It's even weirder when I think how many self portraits that he does.

notesfromnadir said...

This sure was educational! It's interesting to read who suffers from it, as Jane Goodall worked w/ chimps for so long & if she could tell them apart...

Ellie said...

I can't imagine how difficult life must be with this condition. Just awful.

I forget names too. LOL.

Danyelle said...

*hearts brain disorders* This would be a very hard thing to have to deal with every day. I have a hard time remembering people--especially their names--but this takes it to a whole 'nother level.

LTM said...

wow. That is totally fascinating! I'm like you--no problem w/faces, terrible at names. I even called a character in one of my WIPs by the wrong name once...! LOL!!!

sigh. What's *that* affliction called??? :D

sarah said...

This is something I've had all my life and I just learned about it myself a month or two ago. Most of us sneak by unnoticed because we're so used to it that other people don't even notice our slight issues. I think the thing a lot of the people commenting aren't realizing is that faces are just one of the many things used to recognize a person. It's not fun sometimes but it's not quite as debilitating as people seem to think.

Yes, I can't remember people's faces but I can remember their voice, or their clothing, or their height, or their perfume, or any combination of things. I have a coworker I recognize because of a mole on her neck!

That's not to say I don't have problems with it - I work in retail and am constantly not recognizing customers that recognize me - but it's just another thing I live with, like my untamable hair :)

Alleged Author said...

I couldn't imagine living with that!

Heather said...

Wow, I have no idea this was a disorder. How fascinating! I'm like you, good with faces but terrible with names!

lovedfromthestart said...

There are days where I think that people (especially white people) all look alike. I'm happy to say that this doesn't come too often.

Ruth D~ said...

This is a fascinating topic. I've read several of the books and some articles on the topic, and seen people with this disorder being interviewed... yet it's so hard to imagine what it must be like.

Matthew Rush said...

Whoa. I could see some awesome stories coming out of this.

Connie said...

I have a mild form of this. You just learn to cope. Having an understanding spouse helps: my husband reminds me that a character in the movie was in the movie earlier (this can be very frustrating), he reminds me that I've met a person before and what the context was, etc., etc.

Lisa Gail Green said...

WOW I never even heard of this. That's fascinating. Could Jane Goodall recognize the chimps?

Lydia K said...

I figured that with a prevalence rate of 2.5%, at least one or two people commenting might be affected.

Connie and Sarah, thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

Meredith said...

I remember learning about this in psychology in college. Amazing how many people have it. I'm not that good at recognizing faces, so I tend to recognize people by the way they move, height, and hair--for some reason, that's easier for me.

Holly Ruggiero said...

What a tough life that must be.

The Golden Eagle said...

It must be so hard to be unable to recognize faces.

I remember watching the NewHour once, where they interviewed Chuck Close.

runawaybride said...

Even I find it hard to remember names...

Taryn Tyler said...

So if someone who wanted to talk about nothing but his toy classic car models or something like that spent an entire evening talking to me wheter I would or no and the next day I walked past without saying Hi I could plead Prosopagnosia?

Stephen Tremp said...

Same here. Names I need to work on. But I can recognize faces even years or decades later even though they have aged.

Jai Joshi said...

I wonder if it's possible to have partial face blindness. Like with family members I don't like.

Jai

Lynda Young said...

I'm sure I have a mild version of this. I get cues from people's clothes or hair so when they change I struggle to recognise them. Only happens for new people I've met or people I don't see often. I find it quite embarassing and I try to hide it.

Karen Lange said...

Hmm, I did not know this. Thanks for the info; you are always educating me!
Happy Monday,
Karen

M Pax said...

You come up with great fodder for my imagination, Lydia. :D

Colene Murphy said...

Wow! How weird would that be, to not recognize people...yuck! I had no idea so many famous people had it. You have the best Monday posts, for sure!

Mary Vaughn said...

I can't bare to think of not recognizing my loved ones.

A great post for a Monday.

Melissa said...

WOw. I had no idea this was a real condition. That's sort of terrifying. I can't imagine not recognizing people I know and love.

Kelly said...

Interesting! I had no idea that such a thing existed!

mist of the blossom rain said...

This is so fascinating! Thanks for coming to my blog, yours is so beautiful.

cleemckenzie said...

I just read about this. How incredibly difficult life would be if you couldn't remember people's faces.

Nevine said...

Lydia, I've read "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" and it was one of the most fascinating books I've ever read! What a mystifying disorder, to say the least.

Thanks for dropping in, btw. And thanks for leaving your trail!

Nevine

wheresmypencil said...

Sometimes I feel like this when I run into people I went to school with and I have no idea who they are. It's worse if they run me down calling out my name. Once I got through an entire conversation with someone wishing it would end. When it finally did I was so relieved b/c I thought they hadn't noticed I never used their name. Before they turned to leave though, they looked me straight in the eye and said "You don't know who I am do you?" And he was right, I had absolutely no clue. I felt terrible and what's worse is I don't really suffer from this. Apparently I'm just a terrible person. :)

wheresmypencil said...

Sometimes I feel like this when I run into people I went to school with and I have no idea who they are. It's worse if they run me down calling out my name. Once I got through an entire conversation with someone wishing it would end. When it finally did I was so relieved b/c I thought they hadn't noticed I never used their name. Before they turned to leave though, they looked me straight in the eye and said "You don't know who I am do you?" And he was right, I had absolutely no clue. I felt terrible and what's worse is I don't really suffer from this. Apparently I'm just a terrible person. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

My sister and I are HORRIBLE at remembering faces. My parents aren't great, but we're worse. I always tell my students they'll have to come and talk to me in the future when we meet up because I won't recognize them. Maybe I have a legit reason after all! :)

Carrie said...

What a great post! Fascinating in its own right and also such a good thing to think about for a writer. I love hearing about how different people see the world. Thanks!

KO: The Insect Collector said...

I heard Oliver Sacks discussing this on a radio show recently. Very interesting. It gave me an idea for a book, but it's so far down my list I may never write it. It's only listed on my "ideas" page right now.

Jonene Ficklin said...

Wow, Jane Goodall? Talk about taking a serious struggle and using the lessons learned to enrich her life and others. She has to find physical clues to tell the apes apart. You just never know, do you? Thanks for a great blog!

Olga said...

Apparently I was acquainted with a person with this disorder. She was very observant in general. She recognized people by their manners, and by the sound of their voice. She seemed very comfortable in her own skin. Maybe because she didn't know how else it can be.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thank God, that I have an excellent memory for names and faces. I was not acquainted with this disorder. Thanks for the information.

Just imagine teachers suffering from Prosopagnosia?!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Sounds terrible. I've heard of it but had no idea so many people suffered with it.

Krispy said...

I remember being weirded out by this in psych class. It's hard to imagine just not being able to recognize faces!

Clara said...

I love Oliver, thanks for this Lydia! Very good to know! =)

Samantha Vérant said...

If I didn't wear my glasses/contact lenses, I wouldn't recognize my own mother on the street! Sorry, can't help you out with more titles!

Theresa Milstein said...

Oliver Sacks? That's surprising because he spends so much time observing people. And Jane Goodall spends so much time with primates. It shows what people can overcome, doesn't it?

I'm terrible with names too. It took me a month to know my 90+ students' names.

Gail said...

Oh my, I'm glad I don't have "face blindness." As an elementary school teacher (for 30 yrs) it would have been disastrous if I couldn't remember faces! Actual, I'm still pretty good at names and faces- I've recognized former students who are now adults just because I still see their "kid face" in their adult face! Besides I have impending regular blindness, don't need another one! LOL

Naomi Ruth said...

I can't imagine this 0_0. There were two people I knew whose faces looked exactly alike to me and it was completely embarrassing. And that was only with two individuals! That would be crazy hard to deal with, and would end up with a lot of feelings being hurt unintentionally.

Walt M said...

Can I tell my wife that this is the reason I can't remember people, or is that not a good thing to do?

 
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