I’m Strange, You’re A Stranger (Prosopagnosia)

(Andrea has written several posts about faceblindness

— see the listing at the bottom of this page.)

Here I am sitting at my computer; it’s night, and my reflection is there in the bedroom window. My hair disappears into the inky night, leaving behind a face composed of man-in-the-moon highlights and shadows from the desk lamp. The actual face is a slightly blurry composite because the glass needs cleaning.

Then I have this sinking realization that aside from the familiar shirt, that face could really belong to any number of people. I had never realized before that I do not actually recognize my own face — rather, I only recognize the fact that that I am looking in a mirror and that the reflection is probably me, which is not the same thing.

I cannot recognize myself. I cannot recognize anyone else, either. I’m faceblind.

In the mornings when I wash my face, the individual features always present the same: a familiar-feeling bony nasal bridge, or the surgical scar by the corner of one eye. But those are just individual features, not the gestalt of an entire face, of what I look like as a specific person. Even the left, front, right, upwards, or downwards views of my face seem to have no correlation with each other; they’re different, unrelated.

Should I be walking through a clothing store and catch my side profile reflected in a mirror, I’m invariably surprised that someone is wearing clothes like mine! The doppelgänger feels downright weird for a second, but Oh-it’s-this-again and with a finger-wiggle test I confirm that Yes, that reflection is of me.

Photographs of me never look like the individual features I see in the mirror — no, I don’t mean the usual right-left reversal of features that everyone else says bothers them. Rather, there is this person that lives in photograph-land who other people say looks like me. You know, much the same way that people say your recorded voice sounds like you, despite it sounding different from what you hear in your head. I just have to take their word it’s me in the pictures; after all, I remember being there.

SELF-PORTRAIT by a PROSOPAGNOSIC
“Putting the Cat Into the Carrier”
[Description: A pencil cartoon of hatted person (as seen from back) trying unsuccessfully to put a frantic cat into carrier – the cat has wild swirling eyes, appears to have 12 legs in its frantic efforts of resistance, and the fur is flying!]

OF COURSE, THE BIG PROBLEM
IS IDENTIFYING EVERYONE ELSE.

No, it is NOT just, “Oh, everybody has trouble with names and faces”. What they really mean is that they have trouble remembering the names that go with those faces they are recognizing.

I cannot recognize or remember faces, a neurological condition called Prosopagnosia, or more commonly “faceblindness”.

Once only thought of as the result of injury, we now know is frequently genetic, and affects about 2% of the population. One may be moderately or profoundly impaired. Most faceblind people spend their whole lives trying to compensate, whilst assuming their troubles from being ‘really bad with names and faces’ is a character failing.

I can not recognise anyone. There is no split-second, automatic process where someone “pops out” and you know them.

I use a slower, conscious process of identifying people involves their gait, posture, clothing, hairstyle, and especially the timbre of their voice.

After time, I can learn to identify some familiar people, but neither consistently, and especially not in crowds. Frequently I may not identify someone until I “hear their face”. People say it’s odd that I often don’t immediately notice the sex of a person. Likewise eye color is unmemorable (unless really unusual, like a guy with startlingly ice-blue eyes that I find painful to look at).

People with unusual traits are much easier to cue on and remember, such as the foreign-born and/or physiologically atypical. Problematically, if I run into someone who shares a specific trait I use to identify a person, I may have difficulty sorting out if this is “my” person with the red hair or some other person with the red hair. There’s a related problem: I have “twinned” two school custodians with their identical uniforms and haircuts into the same person; not until several months into the school year did I see both of them together and realized I’d probably addressed the second person as the first!

Worst of all are people in uniforms without extremely distinctive features. (Once I tried to watch the war movie Band of Brothers, but gave up after half an hour of constantly bugging others, “Who’s that? Which one is that? Is that the same guy? Now what’s this guy’s name? Is that a different person or is he in different clothes?”)

But frankly, most people are well, not very memorable. Seriously. Side by side, I can (usually) tell two people apart. But the masses of humanity are all a herd of the same species, passing different in the moment like two leaves on a twig, noticed, considered, but unremembered once blown away.

My most everyday difficulties are:

  • Identifying people I know but when encountering them someplace unexpected;
  • Remembering names (especially common short names);
  • Finding people in crowds, such as my own children or grandchildren on the playground, or friends in a line of people disembarking the jetway.

As time progresses and with it the necessary social circles, from dozens to hundreds of people, my difficulties, frustrations and embarrassments became worse and worse.

As a very young child, it wasn’t too problematic because I was around so few people. In early school years I would know my teacher, a peer or two, and the girl that lived a couple doors down the block. Yet I had no clue that those other children in my classes were mostly the same pupils from previous years. Moreover, when pressed upon to do so by my mother, I could not even list the names of my classmates, much less even recall how many were girls or boys!

Back at school, few things inspired terror like being handed a stack of graded assignments with the instruction to hand them out to my classmates. But not knowing who anyone was made team sports in gym class or recess twice as hellish. Should I manage to catch a softball or intercept a basketball, I had no idea who to throw it to. Worse, the other children caught on I was clumsy and oddly clueless, so both teams would be yelling at me, an overwhelming mass of noise, faces, and conflicting directions.

At university all those “generic” coeds swarmed through the college dorm: clean-cut-guys and girls-with-long-hair, all looking virtually the same. Some might share one or more of those giant lecture classes with me, but I had no idea.

Then it was people in large offices, without name plates on their desks. Or staff with ID badges flapping hidden down at their hips. What’s. The. Point. of an ID Badge. If No-one. Can. See it?

For me, people are often mentally sorted and identified by place.

I will see the same pharmacist at the market and recognize them as such. But should they be off work and wearing street clothes rather than a lab coat, or in another location like the library, then they are as good as a complete and utter stranger to me. This is because I use “likelihood sets” as a crutch for identifying people, e.g., I am likely to meet Entomology professors in one hall, Horticulture professors in another, the nurse and doctor at the health center.

When teaching at college I knew the academic ups and down of each student named on my seating charts, yet by Final Exam Day I was still struggling to identify most when they were ‘out of place’ around the room and hallway.

But location could backfire. When introduced to a couple of friends I found myself meeting two large, tall guys with beards, and both of their single-syllable names started with the letter “D”! Moreover, I was introduced to both of them at the same time and place. It took a couple of months to get them sorted, and during that time I lived in a kind of social terror of making some comment that would reveal my utter, inexplicable, foolish confusion.

COPING. OR, NOT.

I did not discover I had faceblindness until I was in my 40’s, and such a relief it was. Well, relief, then frustration, then confusion. Invisible disabilities, especially those that affect social life, are worse when the coping strategies are limited.

So what do I do when I run into someone whom I cannot quickly identify?

This usually happens when they are “out of place”, or else have changed my cueing factor (haircut, facial hair, glasses). So I rely on their mannerisms, gait or posture (tricky, as these take more input time and analysis), or hope that the person will make some kind of comment that provides the clue.

Of late, I have finally given up trying to guess and will just out and ask them. “Sorry, faceblind moment. Who are you?”

Let them find you. A couple of years ago I had to pick up a guest speaker at the airport. Well I did have a photograph of the person from a web site, but such photos are notoriously out of date, especially with regards to not only aging, but also haircuts, glasses, the kind of clothing the person would be wearing at the airport compared to what was being worn in the candid shot, and even the lighting used in the photograph and the background scenery! In my email I simply explained that I have trouble finding people in crowds, and would be holding up a sign with his name on it. Plenty of other people do this in airports. BUT the difficulty for me was the second day, when I was supposed to pick him up at the hotel lobby and because I had met him once before, “should” be able to find him. Fortunately, he had a distinctive set of characteristics and was also good at picking me out in a crowd!

Damn, Crowds.  Big restaurant, and my family got seated while I was in the Women’s restroom. Where are they … I have to check every single person in the crowd to compare them to my search image. (Sometimes I run into stupid moments, like, “Not, not, not, — oh, wait a minute, this bench is full of brown people, I can skip all of these bodies –” Duh!)

Remember what they’re wearing.  It is easier to re-find someone, because I try to make a conscious effort to remember what they’re wearing, so I can limit the checks to “every human in a blue shirt”. But for my family coming off the jetway, my teenage daughter (who is normally easier to find because she has long hair) had purchased a new coat (a long woollen coat that hid her body shape) and was wearing a scarf tied on her head!

I’m great at identifying things and at seeing patterns — except for human faces. 

Sure, I can identify hundreds of plants and insects, but with those, I am only identifying things down to the family, genus or species level. With humans, we have to identify down to the individual level. I can sometimes identify a very-standardized, very-common portrait of say, Abraham Lincoln, but as a pattern, just as one might remember a particular label design. Because I cannot remember people’s faces (at the risk of sounding offensive), they are not as important to me. This has had other, curious effects upon how I perceive things.

My first clue that I was different also came from a design. 

So often in my past I had tried to make myself learn something in the manner it was taught, and failed to do so well (or at all) because I do not learn or process information in the same manner that it was either taught, or the way the learning process was proscribed. For example, drawing was often described in art books (and classes) as being a process whereby you create the body and limbs out of a series of ovals, and then smooth out the outline. In other words, one creates the whole from the parts, or integrating a combination of features.

Facial features do not resolve into a unified and distinctive whole. Faceblind people see the same individual features, but it doesn’t form that gestalt. (Severe impairment may mean not easily recognising facial features.)  I can neither remember that gestalt nor recognize it in all its different permutations.

Back to that art problem. I cannot draw by connecting different parts. Instead, I start with the silhouette, and then fill in the middle — my visual process is radically different! The first thing I notice about a person is their size or spatial mass, not (I’ve read) as most people do by their sex and their face.

[Description: Ink drawing of seated cat, viewed from back]

When doing some closet-cleaning I came across my portfolio of projects from Commercial Art classes some years ago. One picture was an assignment:

“Abstraction, select a natural object, create an abstract of that object”, done with pen and ink

I remember thinking about cats, and what qualities of the body shape define them as having “cat-ness”. I tend to perceive things primarily by the mass and outline and by specific traits. So, I picked out those details (tail, limb joints, ears, whiskers) that to me were the representational details, those details that I use to identify a cat.

Most everyone did animals for that abstraction assignment. But the instructor pointed out to everyone that my drawing was unusual. It was the only one showing the animal from the back side, without the eyes. Ever.

Mine was the only picture without a face!

Everyone else put the eyes into their animal illustrations, even if they left out the other facial details in their efforts to simplify the abstraction.

But the facial details are not what I cue in to.
I remember when one of our entomology profs was taking a microphotograph of a very small insect. He had an expensive program that combines the digital microscope images from several focal planes together, so even excruciatingly small insects could be photographed in complete focus. Something he told me was, “Always make sure the eyes are in focus; everyone notices the eyes.” Had he not mentioned that to me, I would not have known that the eyes were important to other people.

Yes, I know, people tell me that I just need to “pay attention” or “I should try harder”. Trust me, I do. I make lots of mental notes, trying to “stamp” a face in my memory. But it’s like trying to magnet something to a tree. Trees aren’t ferrous; magnets won’t stick.

OTHER POSTS DEALING WITH FACEBLINDNESS:

Incurable, endurable — sometimes to deal with things you just gotta have fun: Top Ten Things About Having Faceblindness (Prosopagnosia).

Greg Williams does a weekly cartoon called “Blogjam”, where he illustrates stories from people’s blogs. One week he featured my blog post.

I cannot recognise people from their ID photos. Once I am very familiar with a group of people from having been around them a long time, I can use a sort of mental flow-chart to sort out who’s who, such as in a departmental group photo. Unfortunately, some people mistake “being able to distinguish between knowns within a set” with “being able to recognise between a set of knowns and a set of unknowns”. So photo directories do not help me learn to identify people: Smile!

People who don’t repeat frequently during my lifetime will fade from my ability to identify them: Rare Sightings.

One of the problems the faceblind run into is “twinning”, where we mistake two people for the same person. It’s not that everyone looks identical, but rather that people exist in different “types” of indistinguishable individuals: Typecasting.

Helping the awkward new student seemed like a good idea, so why did it make everything worse? Help was apparently something that is done to you and for you; I was the passive recipient for help. They were strangely disempowering, these activities that were ostensibly for my benefit: Being the Class Project: Reflections Upon False Inclusion.

Here’s a word we faceblind need: Tartle TAR-tl (Scottish) v. To hesitate or be slow when recognising a person or thing. Those of us who are faceblind tartle a LOT. New tools you didn’t even know you needed.

Making connections about who’s who required a lot of careful analysis, drawing connections and ruling out confounds between dissimilar data sets, as though I am playing a particularly difficult level of Sudoku involving personnel instead of numbers. It makes my own participation so much easier if someone can mention to me who people are and how I would know them, and update me as to what is going on in their lives that will likely be relevant to current events: Social Captioning.

The faceblind person prepares for a job interview: Welcome to the First Ring of Hell.

Who cares about the Beautiful People out there if we can’t tell them apart? The faceblind person may prefer the faces of people who are distinctive, because they can be more easily recognized, and thus are associated with less stress of identification, and because they increase the likelihood of repeated identification. As you might expect, faceblindness plays hell with dating. No Eye for Beauty.

 

75 Comments

  1. Maria said,

    22 January 2013 at 15:41

    Hi Andrea:
    My name is Maria, and I’m currently writing a children’s science book on unique physiological traits. It will be published in the fall of 2014. One of the conditions that I’m examining is face blindness. As part of my book, I’d like to include some first-hand information on what it’s like to have this condition. My hope is that this will help to give young readers a better understanding of face blindness. To that end, I wondered if you would consider answering four or five email questions for me about face blindness and its impact on your life. I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you in advance for any help you can offer. Maria

  2. pamelagraydon said,

    19 January 2013 at 19:32

    This is all so facinating! I am a special education teacher who teaches an Autism Program, and I find it facinating the different ways that prosopagnosia manifests itself and the different permutations! The human mind is so facinating!
    In recent years I was relieved to learn about prosopagnosia, as it is clear I have it! I find that I eventually learn to recognize people I see frequently (such as teachers in nearby classrooms, and my own students). But if I meet them out of context, I may or may not recognize them depending on how well I know them. And if 5 years goes by even someone I know very well will become a stranger , I will know that they look vaguely familiar but definitely will not know who they are. If I meet someone at a workshop and don’t meet them again for an hour or two, there is no chance I will recognize them. Even if I work with someone day in and day out (such as a student teacher) if I meet them six months later, I will probably not recognize them. And if a critical part of the person’s appearance changes, I am sunk! I once had a volunteer work every Monday in my classroom for six months. One Monday she arrived without her glasses, and I introduced myself to her thinking she was a new supply educational assistant! Whoops!
    Now that I have a name for what I have (prosopagnosia), I feel comfortable saying to people who I work closely with, “If I meet you years from now in a shopping mall, I will NOT recognize you, so remind me who you are, and even now, if I meet you out of context I may not recognize you”. Most people find it interesting and vastly amusing and are probably hoping that this will happen so that we can kid around about it! The important thing I think, is that they recognize that my inability to recognize them has nothing to do with their importance to me, but everything to do with the way that my brain works. It doesn’t bother me to admit that I have this weakness as there are plenty of things I do very well – just not facial recognition!
    I do think that the whole difficulty relates to our inability to bring up a mental image of a person and compare it to the person in front of us. I can’t bring up a picture of my husband of 34 years in my mind, nor of my two children who are in their 20s. But I can easily imagine photographs of them. I find it rather sad that my memory of my children when they are young is reduced to remembering incidents, or remembering photographs, but I can not remember them “in action” – I can’t visualize their faces and imagine them in real life.
    In regard to visual memory, mine is appallingly bad at bringing up a mental picture of anything that is not geometric. I cannot imagine anything lifelike (eg. trees, animals, people) so attempts at drawing them are pathetically bad – they look like a 6 year old child’s attempts. However I can learn to draw anything by following a pattern. As a result, I can draw houses and buildings just fine, as they are basically geometric 3D shapes put together. Same with maps of roads and places in relation to each other – I can visualize in my mind where they lie in relation to each other and replicate it. I can draw lovely detailed maps for other people of how to get from point A to point B. But a map such as tracing the outline of North America is impossible for me as I cannot visualize it. Weird huh?! Obviously it taps two entirely different skills!
    The mind is an amazing, facinating thing!

    • Raja said,

      17 April 2013 at 17:29

      perhaps this creative blog with prosopagnosia picture could be helpful for your children’s science book- http://cerebrart.blogspot.de/

  3. Nick B said,

    8 November 2012 at 21:28

    A very interesting post Andrea. Many(perhaps most) of the scenarios are quite familiar to me. I find it interesting though that you can recall things other than faces, such as, fruits, cartoons, and pictures of faces. I have never “seen” anything inside my head. I have no trouble understanding that a chair is a chair, but different car types are hard to recognize and I can never remember which cars are owned by those I know. Often people claim that they can recognize celebrities, can you? I can sometimes pick them out, but have no hopes of conjuring up that image in my head. Thank you for this nice article.

    -Nick

  4. Katie said,

    5 October 2012 at 3:18

    Hello! I am an eighth grade student and I am doing a science fair this year and wanted to do my project on face blindness. I want to do research on face blind people to see if they can identify animated characters. I was wondering if I could set up a video chat with you and ask a few questions and show you some pictures so I can gather my data. Thank you very much! I hope you have a nice day!

  5. 20 July 2012 at 23:01

    Hello, my name is Trish Devine, and I am a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I study social perception, and I am conducting a study with people who have prosopagnosia, examining how different social categories are perceived via the face versus other cues. The study only takes about 15 minutes. Because prosopagnosia is such a rare condition, we need as much help as we can get finding people to be in our study. If you wouldn’t mind posting a link to our experiment (below) on your blog, we would really appreciate it.

    People with prosopagnosia can provide a unique and essential perspective, granting them the ability to contribute greatly to our understanding of social perception. If you have any questions about the study or anything else, feel free to email me at iplab@psych.wisc.edu.

    Link:
    https://sites.google.com/site/wisconsinsocialpsych/prosopagnosia-study

    Thank you!

    Trish Devine
    Department of Psychology
    University of Wisconsin – Madison

    This research is being conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and has been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board. If you have any questions or comments, you can reply to this email, contact the principle investigator of the Interpersonal Perceptions Lab at iplab@psych.wisc.edu.

  6. David Parker said,

    6 May 2012 at 7:33

    Fanatstic to realize just how many other people suffer from this problem. One of the worst things I find is to have a conversation with someone who I don’t know because I am using hints to remember someone else who appears vaguley similar. I find that I can remember photographs of friends and how they look rather than the person themselves.

  7. 13 April 2012 at 10:25

    I’m tired, going to bed. I only read 1/2 of your Letter. I scareas me to think your beconing me imparticular. Very Cult like, as I hae imagined it before. I’ll need time to try to read it fully in the daytime. 10/4 out.

  8. 28 January 2012 at 16:10

    How do you explain face blindness at a job interview?

    I always had trouble with names and faces. Prior to surgery to remove a mass from the medial temporal lobe (amygdala removed) causing epilepsy I tested as high 80s to high 90s in various areas. I remember that face recognition was the area that tested low. After the surgery it was much worse. I can see faces fine that isn’t the problem. They just don’t look familiar, and I am far more atrocious remembering names. It takes me a long time to remember people’s faces, and much longer to remember names. It’s odd, but I have the same trouble remembering people’s cars, but not other objects.

    I get around by just being friendly to everyone. When someone knows me and I don’t recognize them I wait for something in the course of the conversation to cue me in to who they are. It is embarassing when someone realizes that I don’t know who they are in the middle of a conversation. I usually use self deprecating humor at that point and apologize. It works. If I still can’t place the person then I’ll question them where I know them from. People generally are bemused but not hostile or offended.

    How would you explain this in a job interview? I’m thinking it would be good for a “Tell me a weakness” question, but not quite sure how to frame it. I do eventually learn names and faces, it just takes much longer, noticeably longer, than normal people.

  9. GINA SETZER said,

    11 January 2012 at 0:23

    THIS WAS VERY INFORMATIVE

  10. Jim said,

    6 January 2012 at 5:05

    I just learned of prosopagnosia a few days ago and have appreciated reading all the posts. I can identify with so much of what has been written. As recently as today I had a “face blind” moment. I’m a pastor, and as I was pulling out of the church parking lot, a man in a truck stopped me. After talking to him for a while, I asked him who he was. He gave me his name and a funny look. He’s attended the church for some time, and I have shaken his hand and used his name when doing so. But out of context, I had no idea who I was talking to. IN fact, the only way I even know who he is in church is only because I’m able to identify his wife. However, if his wife were out of church, I wouldn’t recognize her either! It’s quite embarrassing being a pastor and not recognizing the parishioners.

    • 27 December 2014 at 11:29

      That’s really tough! I’ve recently realized I’m face blind, but I don’t have a job where it’s really important to recognize people. Best of luck to you!

  11. sealander said,

    6 December 2011 at 21:06

    I believe I have prosopagnosia too. I can learn to recognise people after repeated exposure, but it takes time. Now that I’m aware of this I’m taking note of what happens when I meet someone new. Introduced to a new colleague yesterday, I made sure to look carefully at his face and try to remember it. Immediately after he’d gone, I tried to visualise his face and could do so, but five minutes later all I could recall was height, skin colour and hair cut. I think I’ll use him as an experiment to see how many times I have to see him before I can actually retain an image of his face :)
    Regarding photos, I find my brain treats photos of faces differently to real faces – if I have a good quality photo of someone I know, I can retain that image in memory, and use that as a reference to recognise these people. If only there was a socially acceptable way of taking a photo of everyone I meet!

  12. Kourtney said,

    5 October 2011 at 22:43

    Wow, i have had many of the same problems that you have Andrea…i can’t recall people’s faces in my mind, often just their clothes or hair color. Unless i have known them for a very long time (friends, older family members, ect..) i can’t remember who they are, even if they obviously know me. There is this little sister of one of my friends, every time she sees me she says hi and waves at me, but it takes me several minutes, maybe even after she has left or said goodbye until i can actually identify her. I don’t have a problem with recognizing people from pictures, and if i know the actor/actress can identify those people as well. I read a lot and noticed that i have a problem picturing people described by their features (cleft chin, high cheek bones, angular features). If a character’s features are described i have a hard time putting all the different parts(eyes, mouth, nose) together to form a face. I often skip those kinds of details because to me those aren’t the most important part of the person being described. I often mistake complete strangers for people I know and as such also mistake people i know for complete strangers. Most of the time i pretend not to notice people until they walk up and say hi because i don’t know if i actually know them.
    Thanks, your blog really helped me

    • andrea said,

      7 November 2011 at 0:27

      Kourtney,
      I find it interesting that you say, “I don’t have a problem with recognizing people from pictures, and if i know the actor/actress can identify those people as well.”

      I’m curious (if I may) to dissect the following, or at least give you something to think about:

      * When you recognize someone in a picture, is it someone you know personally and can recognize their haircut, clothes et cetera? Did you take the picture, or were you there at the event, or otherwise recognize the circumstances to figure out the people there? (I can identify some famous people because I’ve simply memorized the pattern of the B&W photo.)

      * What if it’s a photo of someone you know, but it was taken some time before you knew them (or before you were born), and in a different setting that would not provide you clues?

      ** When you know actors/actresses, are you identifying commonly-used stock photography shots, or are you identifying them when they are done up in particular character clothes/hair/makeup? (For example, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones or Han Solo.)

      ** Can you also identify those famous people from candid snaps in celebrity or gossip magazines, if they aren’t obviously identified in large print?

      Although many faceblind people can identify a few famous people due to specific clues (what’s called the “Gorbachev Effect” due to his port-wine stain birthmark), we can often stumble if our unconsciously-used cues are lacking. I’m just curious how well you have learned to adapt, and/or if yours is more of a less-severe case. (-:

      andrea

      • Kourtney said,

        15 November 2011 at 5:24

        Thanks for replying and no I don’t mind you dissecting my statements at all. Now that you mention it, I can’t identify people in pictures unless I know them, was there when it was taken, or remember yhe circumstances. And while I can identify some actors/actresses, it is usually a select few( Johnny depp, Harrison Ford, ect.) and only then because I like their movies and have watched them a million times. But if you wanted me to pick out Brad Pitt or Katie Holmes or someone out of a random picture I can’t do it. Thank you for shedding some light on this subject.
        Kourtney

  13. Doc Stevens said,

    29 August 2011 at 20:49

    I loved reading this article. Thanks for putting a personal touch on this condition. This is one of the best first-person accounts I’ve read.

  14. kimberly said,

    21 February 2011 at 23:29

    Hey, I just wanted to stop by and say ME TOO! Isn’t it great to know what is the matter with you? For years I couldn’t figure out WHY I couldn’t remember faces. Now I know that I can’t RECOGNIZE faces. Thankfully I have noticed that I have not passed this down to my son! But yeah, as for dating, I now understand why I like tall men (easy to pick out of a crowd!). And for your article on twinning, oh so embarrassing! Anyway, just wanted to say: Me too!

  15. 1 November 2010 at 2:15

    It always amazes me when someone recognizes me after meeting me just once or twice.

    I have had people react to me looking at them when I didn’t realize what was in my line of sight was a face. If someone is standing too close to me I may wonder why I can’t see the wall across the room, but I won’t realize that I can’t see the wall because someone’s face is in the way.

  16. christine said,

    31 October 2010 at 22:54

    Hello Andrea,
    I have the same range of issues with face recognition as you have. Mostly I don’t remember faces. I always blamed it on being short-sighted or not having paid attention, etc. But like you I cannot usually conjure mental images of faces and when I do, they are fleeting or part of the face. I will go and say hello to strangers thinking they are someone i know quite well, don’t recognise students, etc. etc.
    Now I have a question, does any one feel the following: I often feel invisible: I am always amazed up to a degree that people actually see me and that they can recognise me. I am not speaking of close family or friends, but acquaintances, people i meet at parties, people in crowds, people on the streets. Also, i have got some people annoyed or people have smiled at me and began to engage me etc because i happened to be staring at them completely unaware that they are seeing me watching them. in other words, I am not really looking at them, just looking at their features trying to make them out, or not even looking, just have my eyes “resting” on them somewhat as insects are attracted to light!
    Thank you

  17. L.P.T. said,

    30 October 2010 at 11:34

    Yesterday was a bit rough at the office… several people wore costumes, including wigs, for Halloween. Halloween is likely the worst time of year for people with prosopagnosia!

    Yes, your costume is nice… and no, I don’t have a clue who you are…

    Of course, I only said the first part.

    It’s unnerving when you lose the little bit of recognition ability you have.

    Many folks without prosopagnosia have difficulty recognizing people in costume. That might be a good example to use when trying to explain prosopagnosia to them… “Imagine if everyone you met was wearing a costume and expected you to recognize them. That’s how I live every day.”

  18. Amy Collen said,

    30 October 2010 at 6:52

    Such an interesting read…I like the title of your site. It caught my interest and I’ve enjoyed reading the posts. I’m 49 and didn’t know what my “problem” was until I had to start socializing more often and meeting with clients. I actually dread bumping into clients in public because there is a very high probability that I won’t recognize them. You’re right about the voice though…as soon as a person speaks I tend to be able to get a sense of who they are.

    My sister told me that if it mattered to me, that I would be able to recognize people – and I have improved slightly – but only if I make myself tired trying to remember something about everyone I meet – and only if they don’t change those features.

    I think I’ll shorten the name to “proso” so that it’s easier to say to people – and because I had a recent especially uncomfortable moment yesterday. I was at work and I mistook someone who works occasionally for us at my studio for a new client (who I’ve never seen) who I was waiting for – I even said “are you Eric?” – and he said “no…..” and looked at me weird. But didn’t tell me his name…because he was busy thinking I’d lost my mind, no doubt. Unfortunately, 4 hours later, this same person walked in the room to say goodbye and I failed AGAIN to recognize him. Yeesh. I sent him a note though telling him that I have an impossible problem with recognizing faces. What’s wonderful is, he was really nice about it and also sent me an article from The New Yorker about “proso” and I’ve been researching like crazy which is how I came across your site.

    I feel like I am finally able to have information to help “back up” what I’ve been trying to tell people. It’s just like you say — when I explain that “I have a debilitating inability to recognize faces” – the reply is usually “yeah, don’t we all!”. I generally respond by saying – well – just remember this conversation the next time we see each other – because I may not recognize you.

    For all my inability to recognize faces, I can remember EVERYTHING about lots of other visuals – and this is part of the reason I have a talent for design. I feel bad for people who have to process my confused expression though – most people think my head is in the clouds and I just roll with that. :)

  19. L.P.T. said,

    8 October 2010 at 16:05

    Reading about people’s experiences with prosopagnosia is so validating: only in the last couple of years have I realized that there is a name for what I have experienced all my life.

    Running into colleagues outside work can be very challenging as often I have no idea who they are. I have more luck recognizing voices but even then usually need context to identify someone. Then there’s the embarrassment of running into the neighbour at the mall and struggling to recognize someone I have known for 20 years.

    There are two people in my community that are so similar (slim, balding men in their 70s with mustaches) that I cannot tell which one I am talking to when I meet him. I have had supper at the home of one of them … more than once. Once I even tried to memorize his features while there… surely I should be able to recognize him! But nope.

    However, I have some superior cognitive skills, including an ability to remember dates (I will always remember your birthday … if I know who you are) and an excellent sense of direction… seem to have an internal GPS! :) Those skills must involve a different part of the brain than facial recognition.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing these experiences!

  20. Rita said,

    19 May 2010 at 9:55

    Good grief!
    I thought it was just me being a bit dense! I have terrible trouble recognising people unless I am very, very familiar with them – the examples people have given where they have been unable to recognise their mums really struck a chord with me – if I am out shopping with my mum and we get separated, I have a terrible job finding her (I usually try to look for her hair and her coat, but if I forget to check which coat she is wearing and there’s lots of grey-haired ladies in the shops……yikes!)

    At a gig I went to last year, I went to the “merch” stand with my friends daughter, and was reliant on her, and the body language of my friends as we approached, to pick them out from the crowd – these were people I have known for over 15 years! Even now, there’s a very dear friend of mine who I speak to mainly over then internet and on the occasions we do get together, I have an “oh yeah, *that’s* what you look like” moment despite having many photos of him.

    The number of times I have walked straight past people, had the “don’t say hello then!” comment (quickly followed by scrabbling around in my head trying to desperately recall who the heck they are) and just plain been wierd with people becuase I can’t quite recognise them….. well if I had a pound for each time I’d fly everyone on this thread to Hawaii for a get together (Name tags compulsory, of course :-D)

    I’m sorry I’ve gone on a bit, but it’s just such a relief to know IT’S NOT JUST ME – I was diagnosed with Hypermobiility in January after suffering years of pain in silence, so this has been quite a year for me. Anyone from here who wants too add me on facebook, feel free :) (Rita Newby)

    Age 30, Location UK

    • Sharon Armus said,

      24 May 2010 at 2:39

      I am now truly realizing that I have this condition as well. I also walk right by people I should “know” or I look like I am staring right through them. The other thing I do is I THINK I know people when I actually don’t know them. I walk up to people thinking they are someone I know. Usually it is some little thing that makes me think I know them, like their glasses, or hair, or body build or something. It takes a few seconds (long seconds) before I realize that once again I have gone up to a complete stranger. It’s embarrassing. What do we do to help ourselves with this?

  21. Jeni Bate said,

    29 April 2010 at 22:09

    Oh Joy of joys, I am not alone. As a young child, my mother would chide me for not saying hello to her friends in the street ‘Don’t you know Mrs Jones?’ No!
    I have embarrassed myself in countless situations due to this, and like Mara, fear 2nd time social gatherings. It’s made worse by the fact that, as I have unusual looks (middle aged white chick with braids) so everyone knows me. As an artist who is trying hard to develop ‘brand recognition’ and ‘work the crowd’ at art fairs – including recognizing people when they come back to the booth to decide if they’re going to buy something – my prosopagosia is little short of a major disability.
    I have one neighbor who has similar problems. I recently was with her at a social gathering that included many of her grown children. One daughter was wearing a mint green tshirt and beige knee length shorts, and had dark shoulder length hair. Two of her friends turned up and another sister. They were all wearing very similar clothes and had the same build. I thought oh no I’m going to make a fool of myself. But my neighbor did first, calling her daughters name across the campsite to one of the other girls, as her daughter stood next to her.

    I think I need to be more forthcoming in ‘friendly’ groups like Yana was – like my mother’s friend, the unrecognized person thinks you’re being rude or ignorant. Understanding is all it takes. After all, if we were deaf, we would not be considered rude if failing to respond to our name called from behind us.

  22. 27 March 2010 at 17:16

    […] Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness) Prosopagnosia (sometimes known as face blindness) is a disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired . . . (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia 3/26/10). My favorite pages are from http://www.prosopagnosia.com/ which is by Cecilia Burman. There is also I’m Strange, You’re A Stranger (Prosopagnosia) https://qw88nb88.wordpress.com/im-strange-youre-a-stranger-prosopagnosia/. […]

  23. Mara said,

    26 March 2010 at 2:44

    I am so glad I’ve finally learned about prosopagnosia. I almost cried reading your blog about all the symptoms that have embarassed me throughout my life. The social terror of trying to talk to someone I know I should recognize, without saying something to give away my ignorance, is often paralyzing. I can see someone every week at church, talking with them about family, work, etc, then see them in casual clothes at the store during the week and not have any idea…

    I teach music to children in the sunday school, and as much as I know how nice it would be to call the children each by their name I mostly resort to the “hey you” gesture and point. Even after more than a year with the same group of 40 children. Like you, I often can recognize those with unusual features or personalities, but there are about ten darling little boys ages 5-9 who occasionally get crew cuts who are completely indistinguishable to me.

    I do wonder if this could be related to mild autism. I recently read Look Me In The Eyes, a book written by an autistic man about his struggles to adjust and lead a normal life. Some of what he describes is so familiar to me. I have a very hard time making small talk with people, because I can’t follow normal social cues. I usually say what is interesting to me or or share something I have been thinking about, without regard to the “rules” of conversation that normal people seem to understand and take for granted. Maybe part of this is because I don’t see the usual facial cues that help people with the give and take of conversation? Can there be a relationship between prosopagnosia and a more general social awkwardness?

    Anyway, it’s a relief just to know I”m not alone!

  24. lookingformyself said,

    27 February 2010 at 19:41

    Yana,
    A family member of mine only tells people who are very close to him about his situation–a trusted coworker who sits near him to speak to people as they come up to him, etc.

    I have told very few people about my situation because it is so hard to explain but it’s getting easier all the time. I have told a few close friends, but in one instance I told everyone in the room.

    I joined a professional organization made up of women in my profession. At the end of the very first meeting (in Nov.) I explained my situation to everyone (about 25 people). I didn’t go to the December social because I just wasn’t ready to face a large group of people dressed completely differently than I had seen them before. Now when I go to the meetings someone will walk up and say “You’re the one that can’t see faces, right?” and I laugh and say I am.

    There are a lot of people out there with varying degrees of face blindness that have never heard of it. I hope to be allowed to do a presentation at one of the organization meetings about face blindness because we work every day with people like us who don’t know about it. Knowing helps. Sharing coping tips helps. We are not alone, people just don’t know how like us they are.

    • andrea said,

      2 March 2010 at 2:47

      I’m not sure if “can’t see faces” is the best description (at least for me); rather, it’s a problem of not being able to remember faces.

  25. Yana Hashim said,

    27 February 2010 at 17:57

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for writing this. I knew I have difficulties to recognized ppl’s face since I was in late primary school. I never tell anyone about this. because I remember telling my cousin about this, and she laughed at me n told me that i was a liar.

    I knew about face blindness for about 3 yrs ago, when a friend of mine( who is currently my boyfriend) told me that I was such a bad friend. I didn’t recognized him waving hands to me across the road. after a few incidents, I told him my situation.

    But in my cases, I mostly having trouble recognize guy’s face.for girls, sometimes i can, sometimes i can’t. I have no idea why.and yes, I could see ppl in the photo. but not in real life. i find myself it very hard to blend in the social gathering. I have to stare at ppl’s and still cannot see them.
    I was wondering, should I tell ppl that I am a face blindness? I afraid that they think I’m just creating things up.

    Thanks for sharing your stories

    Yana

  26. Rose said,

    11 February 2010 at 9:55

    I relate to every word of this. This state of being has totally impacted my life. I was once introduced to a whole team of people outdoors. They then took off their hats and coats and I saw them again ten minutes later and was unable to pick out who I had already met. I try to be “sociable” and introduce myself to the same person over again. I get told I am not being sociable or am not taking initiative to “go and find Val” because Val is one of three “over 50-ish females” and I will never again work out which one she is. I may be able to recognise that someone is wearing a red jacket and hair in a pony tail, but come the next day and they are no longer wearing that combo I lost ’em.

    My husband despairs of watching films with me as I constantly stop to ask if “that’s the same guy as before or a different one”, but he had to go and bang his head on a wall when he was trying to tell me an episode I had missed and described a character as being “the only black guy in the whole show” – I hadn’t noticed.

    I went to a job interview where they lost my papers – who were you interviewd by, do you remember what they looked like? A man or a woman? This was 3 months later, unless it was a space alien I’m not going to be able to tell you! I might be able to remember she had a particular shape and cut of skirt on, but I can’t describe it anyway I’d just know it if I saw it again.

    And just yesterday someone waited outside the loo for me to take me back into a secured area. She moved. When I came back out there were several people milling about, but any or none of them could have been my host. Despair!

    • lookingformyself said,

      11 February 2010 at 14:47

      My husband lost 40 lbs last year. I couldn’t find him in a crowd. His shape was so different from what it had been before I couldn’t tell him from anyone else. If we are going to split up in a large store I make a note of what hat and coat he is wearing that day. We also both carry cell phones so if we lose each other we can call.

      I recently joined an organization of 30+ women. The first night I told them of my situation. They have been very understanding. In fact the next meeting I went to someone walked up to me and said, “Are you the one that can’t see faces?” I thought, “Wow, someone remembered.” I hope to be able to give a presentation later on to help them understand more about it and maybe see that there are people in their lives that have the same condition and show them how to help.

    • christine said,

      31 October 2010 at 23:11

      Hello Rose,
      I have this problem too, and I also am constantly asking who is this character in the movie. As a non-native English speaker living in English speaking countries, i always thought this had to do with me not “hearing” properly, isn’t it interesting? then when i could no longer blame it on language, i blamed it on the fact that the faces on screen were two-dimensional – of course, i could not recognize people off screen either, but did not make the connection, i thought i had a bad memory for people. And finally i got it, that it was not the people that I forgot but their faces – and i got it when i suddenly connected the fact that i forget people in real life AND on screen.

  27. Andrea said,

    19 November 2009 at 18:52

    thank you for your prompt response :)

    • lookingformyself said,

      6 January 2010 at 22:15

      I became aware of “face blindness” from an article on CNN a couple of years ago. There’s a reason that trying to recognize the 150+ people I worked with was totally exhausting! If I met someone when I was sitting down I couldn’t recognize them when we were both standing–and it was my job to meet and help all new employees. I could tell they were new if they were happy and relieved to see me.

      I can find someone from a recent photograph within a few minutes of looking at it but after that it’s no help. I recognize people in photos I’ve taken but there are dozens of familiar cues in them. When my children were in school I constantly had to ask someone to point them out in school programs. I thought I was a bad parent because I couldn’t spot my own children.

      In horror movies where the faces of the zombies are all blurred I’m completely comfortable until I realize the people around me are frightened. I “see” illnesses in other people because I concentrate on skin color and certain illnesses cause specific skin coloration. In order for me to be able to “see” a face I start at the top of the head (hairline, hair color, etc.) move to their right eye (note color, distance from nose, shape), the left jawline (how it curves in relation to the ear), the chin, and finally the nose.

      If I am familiar with an actor/actress I can recognize them faster than my husband can. I think part of it is that in tv and movies the scenes concentrate on the faces and expressions so I get longer exposure to learn the face. Rarely can I say the name, but I can list movies that the actor has been in and my husband can figure out who they are from that. He says I can recognize a lot of faces for someone who is face blind. (Sometimes the voice or mannerisms give them away.)

      I know it is prosopagnosia. It’s hard enough to explain without trying to spell it too!

  28. andrea said,

    18 November 2009 at 3:34

    Andrea,
    Yes, there are degrees of faceblindness. I have no facility to recall faces, except for something like a mental silhouette of their hair style. I can tell my coworkers apart, but days when we’re all required to wear the same company shirt drive me nuts because it takes me twice as long to distinguish one person from another, and trying to find a particular manager among a sea of red shirts is exhausting. Unless I make a special point to memorise a customer’s clothes, I won’t be able to locate them again to give them the product I just fetched.

    andrea

  29. Andrea said,

    18 November 2009 at 0:25

    I close my eyes and am unable to remember what my face looks like. I close my eyes and try to remember what my mom looks like, but I can not. I have to think of the picture I have of her on the night stand and then I can see her face in that picture, but I can not just draw an image of her up from my own memory. Do you think this is a form of prosopagnasia? Do you think there are different degrees? I often don’t recognize people but after I meet them a few times, I will. I would never just overlook my mother if I saw her in line at a store, but there are instances when I first meet people that I will not recognzize them for quite some time, and if I don’t make a real strong effort to remember them, chances are I never will. I wonder if there are certain degrees of severeness? Or if I’m just “bad with faces”? :/

  30. andrea said,

    3 November 2009 at 3:07

    Wow. Somebody did not actually read the article …

  31. Ralph Behr said,

    1 November 2009 at 19:01

    I am a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am seeking an expert in facial recognition to testify at a criminal trial in Fort Lauderdale. If you are a facial recognition expert and have credentials to qualify as an expert in biometrics/facial recognition please send me: a resume, trials you have testified as an expert and your fees.
    Thank you
    Attorney Ralph Behr
    888 SE Third Ave. Suite 400
    Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

    tel: 954-761-3444
    fax: 954-761-1524
    website:www//ralphbehr.com

  32. Rodrigo Castillo said,

    2 October 2009 at 20:25

    can i use the white cat image on my blog?

  33. 5 September 2009 at 23:54

    […] quirks, I had long assumed my mutant status to be true, and when finally diagnosed with prosopagnosia (which can result from a single point mutation), I then took it to be a […]

  34. kelly said,

    2 August 2009 at 2:39

    Does faceblindness and auditory processing disorder go together?
    I cannot recognize faces and I dont have a clear sense of smell. I can smell coffee but dont recognize it unless I see the coffee pot. I cant smell a fire unless I see the smoke. My life has been a mess. I wish I knew about all of this a long time ago. I think my children might have all of these problems. People think i have an accent also. I am from texas and I dont sound like it. People say I sound like im from the northeast!?

  35. senwyn said,

    12 July 2009 at 22:56

    Hi, I’m an eighteen year old student who almost certainly has prosopagnosia. The number of times people have randomly spoken to me in the corridor and I have had to stare at them for ten, twenty seconds, trying to work out who they are based on their voice and hair.

    I work at Mcdonalds (pity me) and I’ve had one incident where I was serving and my mum came in for some reason and she waited in the queue and made her order on the till directly next to mine. But I didn’t recognise her in the queue, let alone when she was next to me. It was only when she left that I realised it was her, because of her hair.

    Actually, i recently had a bad experience due to face blindness. At work, I confused a number of orders when i was told to hand food out of the drivethru window. The problem was that in three consecutive cars, the driver was wearing the same uniform. I had to tell the first car to park, then I ended up givign their drinks to the second car because I thought it was the first. Luckily they told me, or I would have been entirely oblivious. It took a good ten minutes for my managers to sort out the problem and I was given a warning in the office. All because I couldn’t tell them apart.

    I can basically tell people apart due to their location, hair style, clothing, buildg, occasionally their mannerisms and their voices. Their faces become meaningless after a few seconds of parting. I mean, going back to work, I tend to forget what the person looks like ten seconds into the next order.

  36. Linda said,

    4 July 2009 at 13:28

    Hi Andrea,
    I am a teacher recently diagnosed with prosopagnosia & it was interesting & a relief to read about how you cope with this condition as most people around me want me to pretend it doesn’t exist or don’t understand how difficult it can be. My facial blindness is believed to be caused by early onset Parkinsons Disease, which was difficult enough, but this new twist I am finding even harder to cope with (I live in a small village & walk around with a permanently friendly expression because I know but don’t recognise anyone! Thank you for making me feel less alone
    Linda

  37. Linsay said,

    1 July 2009 at 4:52

    Andrea,
    I would like to use some of the information about prosopagnosia from your pages in a research paper that I am doing for my Master’s Degree. I want to give you the proper credit and site your work appropriately, but I could not find your last name listed anywhere on your pages. I’m not sure if that is something that you are comfortable giving out, but if you are ok with it, I would appreciate your help. Thank you so much and keep up the great work! Your information has been truly helpful!
    Sincerely,
    Linsay

  38. ET said,

    28 March 2009 at 8:15

    oops, here’s the blog info
    http://baydisability.blogspot.com/2009/03/what-heck-is-prosopagnosia.html

  39. ET said,

    28 March 2009 at 8:12

    Hi, Following a head injury I have prosopagnosia too. I wrote a long blog piece about it. It’s been almost 10 years and my face blindness is improving, but it still has led to devastating social issues. I’d really like to get in touch with others who are faceblind. You’re the first person I found. Thanks for writing.

  40. Jacqui Burgess said,

    26 February 2009 at 20:50

    Hi Andrea, I enjoyed reading your article as I could relate to many of your comments. A few years ago I started a new job and on the first morning was introduced to my new manager, an hour later he came back into the room and I tried to introduce myself to him – I was mortally embarrassed when he told me he was my manager and we had already been introduced! I have had many embarrasing moments like that but now feel better that I understand the reason why. Many thanks for the interesting article, Jacqui

  41. Nancy said,

    15 February 2009 at 1:10

    Prosopagnosia has just been suggested to me as the name for my inability to recognize people. I’ve known for many years that I am “different” and the disorder, as I now know it is, has caused more than a few embarassing moments. I’m just starting to read up on it but I don’t think I am as badly off as some other sufferers. I have, though, been known to not recognize myself in an old photograph. Up till now I’ve just thought I was weird. It is a relief to know there are others out there like me.

  42. jen bateman said,

    15 October 2008 at 10:45

    hello andrea – i came by your site ‘by accident ‘ [via ‘cat drawing’] as well – and was amazed to find your drawing – my drawing – i’ve always drawn cats like this
    and only today i recalled [ with my son] how , when we were in china , i did not feel different – i felt i looked the same – and i saw people just like i see white people – big ears , long hair etc. which my son always finds embarrassing
    now i know why – everything fell into place- i have felt quite guilty not being able to remember a face – but only scary blue eyes .. etc
    thank you for your site and information, kind regards, jen

  43. Tina said,

    10 July 2008 at 5:45

    You’re right about the usefulness (or not) of photographs to help identify people. It is important to have descriptive captions. Using the Facebook site has been minimally helpful, but we haven’t managed to find anything else that helps more. We are always proponents of name tags, too, if it’s appropriate for the situation.

    The other thing she has done with her roommates has been to explain this condition to them and ask them to help her with cues when they meet someone or have a visitor, “Oh hi, Jim! Susan, I’m sure you remember Jim from the dining hall yesterday.” Or if it’s someone they’ve known for a while, just being sure to incorporate his or her name in the first sentence of greeting. It can be done unobtrusively and her roommates have been helpful so far.

    Her face blindness is complicated by short term memory loss, so even if she does recognize people after repeated exposure (professors, boy friend, etc.), when she hasn’t seen them for a few weeks or sees them out of context she no longer recognizes them. It’s so hard for people to understand that she’s not being rude or self-absorbed.

  44. andrea said,

    9 July 2008 at 4:22

    Well, that’s helpful if you can identify people from photographs … I only can if I know the event of the photograph. Even if I had a photo of my doctor, that does not mean I would recognise her if we passed at the grocery.

    But prosopagnosia affects people in slightly different ways, and perhaps with acquired faceblindness using photographs would work okay for her.

    Personally, it really helps to know ahead of time who is going to be at a social interaction, and of course I really like name tags if they are worn where they can be read!

    andrea

  45. Tina said,

    9 July 2008 at 1:08

    My daughter has face blindness secondary to viral encephalitis almost 9 years ago. She is now 22, and this has been such a social challenge to her at college, both with her instructors and her peers.

    My sister suggested that she sign on to Facebook.com and add those she meets to her “Friends” list, with a private indexation kept of how she knows them, who they are, and any other tips to help her recall them. No one thinks twice of someone her age having a Facebook page, and she can review photos to try to jog her memory or put someone in context. She can take pictures of people she knows and upload them to her own page, with labels and explanations to help her in the future. I hope this helps others, and we are always looking for ideas and ways to help her cope with this condition. Suggestions welcomed!!

  46. Butterflie927 said,

    3 July 2008 at 21:17

    I have, also, considered it “my fault” when I haven’t recognized people I should recognize. It has been embarrassing more than once.

    Kate said in December that she has trouble recognizing white men and was concerned that it would be taken as racial. It wouldn’t be taken that way by a lot of people.

    I have wished that I could explain to black people, who I have not recognized, that it isn’t that they “all look alike” in a uncaring way. But, that white people look alike to me, also. That is, unless they have a very distinctive feature, like being the only redhead in the entire room.

  47. qw88nb88 said,

    12 June 2008 at 3:23

    You’re spelling it correctly — it’s just a very uncommon word and is not in your machine’s spell-checker. Many technical or scientific words are not.

    andrea

  48. Rachael Webb said,

    11 June 2008 at 13:20

    Thanks to Andrea for her reply which I found helpful.

    I just came across another instance of how Prosopagnosia affects me, for the first time in 6 decades I had a wonderful birthday, I, or rather my 40 tonne truck, was stuck in the fisherman/women’s blockade in Cherbourg for three days, I let out that my birthday was the second day.

    The Irish, British and South African, (there are a lot of South African drivers working in European Haulage), drivers got together with Veronique, who works in the bar in the terminal and they presented me with a splay of flowers, a couple of presents, a special drink, (Veronique special), and a birthday cake.

    I handed my digi camera to a driver and asked him to take some photos of us all, I downloaded them onto my laptop which I have in the cab.

    I came back to UK then Ireland on the ferry from Santander to Poole, a driver at the table I was having a meal at started talking about my birthday party, having my laptop with me I opened up the photos’ to see his face sitting next me, I had completely forgotten what he looked like although I knew I knew him.

    Fortunately I managed to pretend I knew who he was all along, maybe we should aim at being abler to say, “sorry, I have prosopagnosia”.

    Rachael Webb

    PS my spell check doesn’t recognise the word or have I got the spelling wrong? I am also partially dyslexic.

  49. qw88nb88 said,

    18 May 2008 at 17:56

    Rachel,

    Prosopagnosia is simply not well known! Most of us have struggled through the years, not realising the extent of our dificulties (after all, those of us who were born with the condition have no means of comparison, unlike those who acquired it through traumatic brain injury), and have always felt that it was somehow a personality fault or moral failing. In truth, our brains simply don’t work quite right, like someone who has color blindness.

    A neurologist is more likely to be aware of the issue as a problem with brain functioning, than would a psychotherapist who is more inclined to view difficulties as manifestations of personality disorders.

    You can find online tests via the Prosopagnosia Research Center.

    andrea

  50. Rachael Webb said,

    18 May 2008 at 14:05

    I have just come across the site and this blog, it’s a great relief at the age of 67 that I have put a label onto what I asumed was in some ways “my fault”. My last therapist refused to discss the matter with me, she gave me a label, “Anankastic Personality Disorder”. If you look up the definition of this, (the symptoms could apply to half the human race), you will probably find a reference to “patients in this classification often claim they do not recognise other people in a visual context”.

    This could be true but then it becomes the cause of the diagnosis, asuming there is no such thing as face blindnes? Which there is, just as most therapists and those engaged in psychotherapy seem to find it necessary to deny, maybe because it is not yet in any or the textbooks on psychology?

    Rachael Webb
    Co Limerick

  51. Virginia said,

    13 April 2008 at 19:20

    Thank you for this post – I have always recognized that I am challenged by faces. I have used coping techniques to navigate through situations, and frankly admit that I would not recognize my own children should I see them out of context! I have never felt “disabled” rather I felt tat those who had no issues with remembering faces are gifted indivivduals. I had to laugh when I read the section about having to hand out papers to students…yikes! I spent years in settings where I was the only woman (a woman in a non-traditional job) and I never could remember the guys faces or names….sigh.But I managed to have a career in the USAF, taught JROTC, did a Peace Corps tour and got an MA…and have had a full, rich life. 8-)

    Life is good…

    “Ginn”
    In Sunny Santa Fe
    Read my Journals: http://www.pulverpages.com

  52. 13 April 2008 at 7:52

    Ther most important information that regarding Prosopagnosia is got from your site for that i really thank you

  53. Barbarella said,

    6 April 2008 at 19:12

    Wow! There´s a NAME for this?! I have always been blaming it on the “fog” to do with my fibromyalgia…. but I´m so glad to hear that I´m not mad! Cause people do look at you like you are mad when you ask them “what´s your name again then?” for the 4th time. Jeez, I´m glad *somebody*´s with me on this. You´re bookmarked! :)

  54. MK said,

    27 March 2008 at 17:03

    Andrea,

    I’m currently doing my Ph.D. research on autism and visual representations. I stumbled across your blog completely by accident while doing a Google image search on “cat drawing.” I was looking for a simple cat image to use in a presentation to illustrate a point I was making. Your story about how you drew the “faceless” cat, using the minimal features that defined catness for you, actually makes this particular picture even more compelling for my work. Can I talk to you about whether it would be alright for me to use this image? (Of course, with full credit given.)

    I would also love to get some more of your thoughts on how you see things; your comment on seeing people (and objects) more by mass and outline versus parts-to-whole is really intriguing.

    -MK

  55. qw88nb88 said,

    21 March 2008 at 0:38

    Adriana,

    Contrary to some interpretations, most prosopagnosics do not see “blurry” faces. I can see faces just fine — I just don’t remember them.

    In my dreams sometimes I see faces, and more frequently I don’t. It is not that the people in my dreams are literally faceless, but rather that I am not looking at them face to face. I recognise people by other accessory features, such as their build, gait, hair style, clothing, or voice. Therefore, those are the features that distinguish people in my dreams.

    I have had MRI of my head (for other reasons) and it showed no gross abnormalities. Because I also had difficulties in my childhood, I assume that mine is a case of developmental prosopagnosia.
    andrea

  56. Adriana Medina said,

    20 March 2008 at 23:31

    Hi Andrea,

    I’m conducting a study on prosopagnosia and when you dream do you see clear faces in your dreams or do you see blurry faces?
    And I also wanted to know if you were born with this condition or whether there was some sort of accident you were in?
    This information will be really helpful in understanding more the phenomena of your dream accounts. Thank you so much for your time.

  57. Simon van Rysewyk said,

    10 March 2008 at 2:11

    Hi Andrea,

    How are you? Hope you are fine and in good health. I have a philosophy blog on the human face and Wittgenstein, and I have just linked some material from your blog in this post to my site. Hope you don’t object.

    Next year, I will start my PhD on the human face and Wittgenstein, and I am interested in what first-person reports from people with facial difference (e.g., prosopagnosia, moebius syndrome, facial disfigurement) reveal about the human face and the self.

    When I have time, I will take a close look at your material here. It looks excellent! Thanks, again.

    Kind regards,

    Simon van Rysewyk

    Shih Hsin University
    Taipei, Taiwan

  58. andrea said,

    17 February 2008 at 15:47

    Laura,
    Prosopagnosia is very rarely caused by injury, but more commonly is genetic, and affects an estimated 1 out of 50 people. The research team led by Ingo Kennerknecht at Münster University believe that it is caused by a single dominant gene. When someone is born with a particular condition, it is called “developmental”. Often developmental prosopagnosics are unaware of their invisible disability, because they have been compensating for it all their lives, with varying degrees of success.

    The ability to remember random and rarely-used phone numbers would be unrelated. A small percentage of people with autism/Asperger’s also have this uncommon ability to remember numbers. There is anecdotal evidence that prospagnosia may be more common in people with autism/Asperger’s than in the general population. Having both of these particular extremes of ability is hardly diagnostic, but it may be something for further investigation (Click on Autism/Asperger’s in my Categories sidebar for blog posts related to this subject.)
    andrea

  59. laura said,

    17 February 2008 at 14:10

    Hey Andrea, I have always wondered why I could not recognize people. I just found out about face blindness a couple of days ago. It was a relief to found out there is a legitimate reason for why I am unable to reconize people! I was just wondering if there is any correlation between prosopagnosia and the ability to recall phone numbers from your past that you may have used only once. Also, I have no obvious reason for having this disorder and was wondering could I have just been born with it? Thank you for your help. Laura

  60. 8 February 2008 at 17:13

    Hi Andrea –

    I produce a comic for The Tampa Tribune, based on text contributions from readers, bloggers and established writers. With your permission, I would be interested in developing a comic that serves as an introduction to Prosopagnosia, based on your post “I’m Strange, You’re A Stranger.”

    You can see previous examples of my comics here (including links to my WikiWorld comics, which are published by The Wikipedia Signpost):

    http://www2.tbo.com/static/sections/tbo-entertainment-comics-blogjam/

    Best,

    Greg Williams
    The Tampa Tribune
    gwilliams@tampatrib.com

  61. andrea said,

    5 February 2008 at 2:32

    It’s just human faces. Cartoons are charicatures with exaggerated, distinctive, and consistent features. I can identity large numbers of specific plant species, insect families, individual cats et cetera. Although a few people with prosopagnosia also have difficulty recognising some types of objects, generally the condition is limited to human faces.

    andrea

  62. jackie said,

    5 February 2008 at 2:11

    We are learning about this condition in my Psychology class and another student asked if you had this condition, would you recognize cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Elmer Fudd, etc. Because this would also be considered face recognition, we all wondered about it. We wondered if it only included Human faces or does it include all faces, real or not. Thanks for any input and God Bless!

  63. 31 January 2008 at 22:03

    […] looking around for some cat pic (as one does) I tripped over Andrea’s Blog and what she posted was rather interesting, so I figured I’ll drop a link here. addthis_url […]

  64. Thomas Devouge said,

    19 December 2007 at 12:56

    Dear Andrea

    My name is Thomas Devouge, I am nineteen years old and I live in Nantes (France). I am currently studying cinema and as a cinema student, I have to make a report that will lead to the sketching out of a documentary. I have recently attended a lecture entitled « Le visage impassible au cinéma » (« unblinking face in movies») during which the theme of face-blindness was mentionned. Since then, I have kept wondering how face-blind people live and how they perceive the world. I would like to talk to someone who suffers from congenital prosopagnosia and who would not mind being interviewed by me. I would also like to know if you have read The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks and if it is a reference work that might be useful to purchase.

    Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Yours faithfully.

    Thomas Devouge

  65. Kate said,

    14 December 2007 at 23:14

    I have much less prosopagnosia now than I did before a therapist, over many sessions, taught me how to really look at faces and identify people. I used to have no faces in my head, and now I do. But I still have trouble, especially with white men. They all look alike. And, for some reason, they get really offended when you say that you have no idea who they are because they look like every other white guy out there. People of mixed race or with distnctive features (that is the guy with the stick-out ears. that is the girl with the buck teeth) are much easier to tell apart. And, in the disability world, I also identify people by their accoutrements – I can remember dogs really easily, so I tell people apart by their service dogs, or particular type of wheelchair, or crutches, etc. (I hope the above is not racist, I did not mean it to be. Before I learned how, I couldn’t reliably identiy races, either.)


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