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Face Blindness (Monday, January 22, 2007)

A recent conversation led me to an article on Wired discussing Face Blindness, also known as "prosopagnosia", which describes the inability to recognize faces without the loss of any other fine distinction — for example, someone suffering from face blindness can distinguish between similar houses or animals, but when they try to recognize a person, they have to key off of voice or clothing or some other distinguishing features, because they are unable to tell faces apart.

This is of particular interest to me, because I have a great deal of difficulty with faces. I frequently don't recognize people that I know, and occasionally recognize people who I don't know. I really need to spend a lot of time with someone before I can readily recognize them and match a name to them. If I meet two white men who both have short brown hair and short beards, even if they really do look very different, I will have a very difficult time distinguishing them. I actually worked with two such gentlemen at my previous company, and now I can't bring either of their faces to my mind, and I had the hardest time telling them apart when I worked with them fairly regularly. I frequently rely on the name plates on office doors, and names on badges for people who I only occasionally interact with, and I have to work hard to identify distinguishing features, such as height, facial hair, hair color and length. Women are much easier to distinguish, I think, because they tend to have a greater variety of colors and styles (and perhaps because there are fewer women to confuse among).

On the other hand, I seem to have a real hard time with non-Caucasians, because of the uniform hair colors and styles among African Americans, Asians, and Indians, since hair seems to be the easiest way for me to recognize someone (can you imagine trying to remember who someone is by which shoes they're wearing, or by their height and weight?). That's very uncomfortable in my field, because I work with many talented individuals of all of those races.

While on the one side, it's nice to know that there are many other people out there who suffer the same way I do, on the other side, I wish there was some way to correct it. I feel like I'm living in a fog a lot of the time, and as social as I am, I hate not being able to recognize people that I've met before, or that I work with every day.

—Brian (1/22/2007 10:08 PM)
(3 comments)

Comments

There's a book you might be interested in that is named for this phenomenom but tells the stories of many other brain disorders - The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

-- Tracie (3/13/2007 9:15 PM)

Darn you, no html!

-- Tracie (3/13/2007 9:15 PM)

Fixed, at your request :)

-- Brian (3/14/2007 12:45 AM)

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