August 10, 2004

Face blindness. This analogy is from Cecilia Burman's prosopagnosia pages, loaded with fantastic graphics and visuals on this strange affliction. As someone who cannot remember new faces until I've had weeks of contact, social situations can be annoying, frustrating, and sometimes a tad offensive.
  • That would suck. Myself I remember faces, it is names that give me trouble.
  • Also see Bill Choisser's fascinating and informative online book on the subject. Interestingly enough, migraine headaches can be a cause of temporary prosopagnosia - my father experienced this some years ago and described it as something like "seeing all the bits that make up a face - eyes, nose, ear, chin - but not in any particular arrangement that said face".
  • Yes, bratcat! I'm also name impaired. And, if Mr. Smith askes me to call him Bill after I've finally gotten the Mr. Smith thing right, I'm completely flummoxed.
  • I'm generally very good with names and faces, I sometimes get (falsely) accused of having ulterior motives when other people can't remember them.
  • That's really interesting... and I can imagine how frustrating that would be. I'm horrible with names, so it's extremely embarrassing and frustrating for me when I see an acquainance and can't remember their name to greet them, or even when I'm in class and I can't remember the name of the person across from me, but this must be much, much more annoying. They have the names, but they don't have faces to put them to.
  • I have this. The worst thing I ever did was talking to my reflection in a mirror, thinking it was some other person. I did figure it out immediately after I started talking. (In my defense, it was a full length mirror in an unfamliar environment, not a mirror across a sink or counter). I felt retarded, and was so thankful that noone was around to see it. When I meet my friends somewhere (like a restaurant to eat), they know that they'll have to keep their eye out for me, to wave me over, since chances are I won't be able to find them until they make themselves obvious. It seems natural to me; it doesn't feel like I have a problem or condition. Sometimes I try to imagine what it's like to not have prosopagnosia. What goes on differently in other people's heads? I don't know. The things that people take for granted seem outlandish and fantastic to me. I think her stone example is awesome. It shows how something can be obviously different, yet hard to recognize until you become familiar with it. Her photoshop examples are poor, don't really convey what it's like (not that I could do better).
  • If you're interested in neurological afflictions such as prosopagnosia and want to see a lay explanation for them, check out Oliver Sacks' popular books.
  • Mr.Knickerbocker, not trying to be intrusive, but this provokes my curiosity. Does this inability to distinguish faces affect a person's being able to distinguish, say, one black cat from another black cat? Or one orange from another if a bowl of oranges were on the table?
  • I can't speak for Mr. Knickerbocker, but prosopagnosia usually affects only face recognition and nothing else. That is not to say that if an individual received a head injury that the prosopagnosia was the only neurological damage and therefore recognition of other objects may be affected.
  • beeswacky I'd probably get black cats mixed up, but it wouldn't be related to prosopagnosia. Your oranges would be a good way to illistrate proso. If you have two oranges sitting next to eachother, you'd be able to find differences between the two as you examined them. Maybe Orange A is a little bigger, or lighter in color. But if you were at the gas station, and you encountered Orange A at the register, there wouldn't be anything about it that would make you realize "Oh, this is Orange A!" It would just be one orange out of a million. You don't have an imprint of Orange A in your mind. The orange example doesn't quite work though. If you were to try and memorize an orange, you'd look for certain characteristics about it. With an orange, I'd look for the same characteristics. But when you memorize a face or person, the things you'd use to memorize are completely different than the ones I'd use. The things that make an imprint get ignored when I do it. It's hard to try and describe. I don't have a severe case. I have tricks around it and it's not as debilitating (sp?) as it would seem. I haven't ever relied on the ability to recieve imprints, so I haven't lost anything. I've been using work-arounds for so long that it's not fair to call them work-arounds. They come natural, and they're so natural that for the longest time it never occured to me that other people have something else.
  • I have read the Oliver Sacks case studies in the past, but still don't really understand how people with this condition experience daily life. Is it that faces are blurred (as shown in the site above) or that faces are indistinguishable because they "look alike" to the person with prosopagnosia? Or because they don't "look different" enough to tell apart? In the example from the website, I noted many more describable features on the person than on the rock. I tend to be good at recalling faces and names, and have a fairly visual memory in general. But apparently not for rocks. On preview... Mr. Knickerbocker, are you saying that you remember faces by making a selective memory of certain features, such as ears or noses, rather than the face as a whole? This is really interesting to me, as I've never really had to think about the process. When I try to visualize a friend's face, I can "see" the whole face in my mind, but the individual features are usually indistinct. When I see friends in real life, I recognize them instantly without sensing any conscious need to compare my visualized version to their faces. Although it's much easier for me to recognize people if their whole body is visible, in real life rather than in a photograph, for example. Does it help you to see the whole person or not?
  • Spackle: Not exactly. Here are some tricks, off the top off my head: Environment- This is the biggest one, really. If you're in a different environment than I'm used to seeing you, I just won't recognize you. If I don't have you linked to say, the mall, and I see you there, I won't recognize you until you clue me in. Voice- both what it sounds like and style of speech. Hair- color and style. Skin- shade. Posture- not just whether or not you slouch, but how you move and carry your body. Faces have posture, too. Outline- Things like height and body size, thick or thin. Abnormalities- If you have something unusual about your look, I'll latch onto that. Unique features are attractive features. Clothes- When I was younger, before I was aware of proso, I used to think that I'd make an awesome spy for the CIA, because I had the perfect disguise: all I needed to do was change my t-shirt, and I'd totally look someone else. I even tried showing people, but they always thought I was wrong, which I was. After multiple exposures to someone, these are the things I'll walk away with, and that I'll use later to recognize them. I don't really make a conscious effort to get these things. These things make an impression because the usual cues (that other people have) don't. Here are some things that I know I don't notice: Acne- I found out a friend of mine is known for always having an abnormal amount of zits. I never noticed his zits. I can look for them and see them, but they don't stay. Glasses- People at work would refer to a friend of mine as "the guy with the glasses," since the couldn't remember his name. It was a long while before I figured out what friend of mine that was, since I never noticed he wore glasses. That was never part of the imprint in my head. There's alot of others, but I'd need someone else to describe them first, since I'm not exactly conscious of them. (It's alot harder to give you a list of things I'm not aware of, since I'm not aware of them)
  • I've got to say, in addition to my FPP, that those people who can recognize a stranger's face after 20 years drive me nuts. I don't know whether to ask "how do they do it?" or "what are they, freaks or somethin'?" Yes, it's probably jealousy/envy.
  • I wonder if that's an extreme form of my inability to remember names. Or if they're related - I know faces, just not names. "Hey- you're . . . that guy!"
  • Between this and the Scott Adams blog entry, I sure am learning a lot of new things this week about the brain. Thanks, Mofi, fascinating stuff. I'm hoping one of these research pieces will eventually reveal what's wrong with Bush...