Friday, December 01, 2006

Prosopagnosia - Face blindness

Anybody else watch TV out there? I watching 3lbs the other night, and a guy was on the show that was 30ish and he had just realized that he had Prosopagnosia or Face blindness. I was like, "What?! How could you seriously not know?" So for the benefit of all, I decided to look into it.

First of all, face-blind people don't just see blobs instead of faces. They see faces, but it somehow doesn't connect. They don't remember faces. It's like taking a Rorschach test. You see something, but it doesn't quite make sense. Most people with face-blindness are born with it, but a person could also develop it later in life. Interestingly, it seems that there may be a link to mild forms of Austism, but researchers aren't quite sure what that link is. And it really is true... you can be UNAWARE that you have face blindness! Mostly because if you are born with it, you don't know what you are missing. Isn't that nuts?

First of all researchers have
isolated the facial recognition to a part of the brain known as the right temporal lobe.

What is interesting is that the circuitry that helps you remember faces mostly only works on faces that are right side up. Crazy huh? On the other hand, researchers have found that the ability of face blind people to recognize faces improves on upside down faces! This means very little though because the odds of meeting upside-down people is pretty low. (At least where I live.) Once again though, monkeys are smarter than us. Their face recognition works upside-down and upside-right!

Obviously face-blind people automatically cope and learn to recognize people by voice, clothing, hair etc, because that is easier to work with than a face.

Face blindness is especially common among northern Europeans, and the further north one goes, the higher its incidence. So the odds that Santa Claus is face blind is pretty good. (Maybe that's why he checks his list twice.)

According to a recent study, 2 percent of the population is face blind. (They were going to start a support group, but no one could recognize the members. :) )

One man with full blown face-blindness said,

“I went through a continual chain of friends, one after the other. See, my recognition systems are not that good. I'd make a new friend in the cafeteria, we'd make a date to go hike or something, and I'd have a great time. The next week I would fail to recognize my new friend in the cafeteria, and the friendship would end."

As a sort of self-test, this same guy went to park and tried to look at people's faces. he observed that "if I allowed my eyes to wander up to their face, at about the moment they crossed the jaw line, I would draw a complete blank. I could tell that the minute my eyes crossed that line, I felt very different. I felt no connection to the people then at all. I realized that the information was going to a completely different place, and it was basically a black hole! After I had let my eyes cross the jaw line on a couple of dozen people or so, I could actually feel an emotional difference in my head when this happened. All connection I felt to the person just evaporated."

If that is not interesting, I do not know what is. There is not really any treatment for this, just ways of adapting.

Are you curious about how well you recgonize faces? I was. After reading this I decided to find a Prosopagnosia test. I found one done by Cambridge University at

It takes about half and hour or so. (At least that is how long it took me.) Let's just say that I was pretty surprised, and you might be also! When you are done, they will tell you your score and how you compare with the norm. The norm is to get a LEAST 80% or better, so study up. One thing that I noticed was that recognizing the faces from the side is a ton harder, and the color round kind of stunk. Anyway, I had to guess on a few. Boy was my face red when they gave me my score. According to the Cambridge test I am moderately face-blind! Crazy, huh? You knew there was something strange about me...

Post your results and lets us know how you did!

**There are email lists, web groups etc that may be interesting to you if you have this. Let me know.


My Toothbrush is a Death Cracker said...

86% for Henrietta Wisconsin!

Mildred said...

I must be a good guesser. I got 78%. However, I seriously felt like I was just guessing at least part of the time. I also found it somewhat disturbing that several of the faces looked like one of my old friends.