Strangers in the mirror.
June 18, 2010 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is an impairment which limits one's ability to recognize faces (previously). As part of the World Science Festival, Robert Krulwich interviews two famous suffers of this little known disease: the portrait artist Chuck Close and the neuroscientist and writer Oliver Sacks.

Want to find out where on the scale you sit? Try the celebrity test mentioned in the interview here (also previously).
posted by 1f2frfbf (78 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
How do you determine whether or not you have this? After taking that test, and thinking about the number of times I have had trouble recognizing people, I am wondering if I have some form of this.

(I recognized Paul McCartney, although I thought that might also possibly be Dudley Moore. There were two more I might have gotten if I'd put down my first instinct. That was it, when apparently most people can recognize 15 or so of the faces.)
posted by kyrademon at 6:39 AM on June 18, 2010


Out of the 1440 minutes of every day, Robert Krulwich spends 1200 of them interviewing Oliver Sacks.

And awesome, I never knew he was one of his own "weirdos".
posted by DU at 6:47 AM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Try taking this test to self-diagnose.

I probably have a mild-moderate form of this condition. I cannot recognize most people that I don't know well. If I meet someone new, I won't recognize them the next day, even if we spent several hours together.

Even people I know fairly well can throw me off with a change of hairstyle.
posted by justkevin at 6:49 AM on June 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


Out of the 1440 minutes of every day, Robert Krulwich spends 1200 of them interviewing Oliver Sacks.

And every time they meet face-to-face, Krulwich has to tell Sacks who he is.
posted by Bromius at 6:49 AM on June 18, 2010


In art school figure-drawing classes there were some people who drew rough figures with recognizable portraits on them, and some people who drew anatomically accurate bodies with blurry faces. I was in the latter group, and yes, I just did poorly on that test. I've known this about myself. If we've met, and you run into me somewhere out of context, just give me a hint, your name, your project, your hometown, or something. I'll be right there with you, remembering all the details of what we spoke about, etc.

If we've actually done something together, I'll remember your face forever, but if we've only been introduced and chatted, I'm lost. Best not to wear a black bathing cap and go around in the dark with just a flashlight on your face, even if you are Fred Astaire.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I usually think I'm quite good at recognizing faces, but I scored below-average.

Did anyone else who took this test think that the faces seemed stretched out or broadened? Several of the folks (particularly actresses) looked a lot fatter in the face than I would usually think, and I know that tripped me up on a couple of them.
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:53 AM on June 18, 2010


I once called my wife by the wrong name, at a bad time... THAT was the ultimate test of Prosopagnosia.
posted by HuronBob at 6:56 AM on June 18, 2010


I just did the famous faces test and got 5 right, although I knew in advance that Obama, Demi Moore and Paul McCartney would be on it.
posted by justkevin at 6:57 AM on June 18, 2010


I think they went a little out of their way to pick unflattering photographs and/or photos that hid some immediately identifiable feature. Angelina Jolie's lips, Fred Astaire's triangular face, Matt Damon's brow.
posted by stavrogin at 6:59 AM on June 18, 2010


I'm sitting here waiting for the Colbert Report to come on and I MISSED Colbert!

Gads, otherwise average.
posted by Max Power at 6:59 AM on June 18, 2010


Damn it! I am totally intrigued by this! But it's... Radiolab...
posted by Auden at 7:02 AM on June 18, 2010


On the quiz pics, they took off the hair, and the pictures looked a little low-res. I scored exactly average, and will turn in my snowflake badge for the day.
posted by rainbaby at 7:06 AM on June 18, 2010


I missed the three people that people typically miss. I don't follow the sport one plays, the other may have been more recognizable a decade ago, but isn't what I'd consider a classic celebrity, and as far as the third, well, I knew he looked familiar, but I still kicked myself when I saw the answer.

I don't think the faces were distorted, but the masking made them look rather alien. There were some unflattering candid shots there, too, so if your vague memory of celebrity X rests on a canonical head shot, you were screwed.
posted by maudlin at 7:06 AM on June 18, 2010


I think it's the hair. I can't recognize them without their hair.
posted by specialagentwebb at 7:06 AM on June 18, 2010


Interesting, I got 17/17 according to its scoring (I got 3 wrong but I didn't know them at all) despite having no visualization ability. Maybe I make up for it by focusing on individual features.

I think people looked fatter because they masked out all their hair, which tends to be on top of their head.
posted by dfan at 7:07 AM on June 18, 2010


And every time they meet face-to-face, Krulwich has to tell Sacks who he is.

Nah, he just brings his dog.
posted by yerfatma at 7:19 AM on June 18, 2010


Did anyone else who took this test think that the faces seemed stretched out or broadened?

I suspect that's just because the hair is missing. Your hair, especially if you have "up", takes up a surprisingly large proportion of the front of your head. this is the first hit for "face" on google. If you actually measure it, her hair is about 20% of total distance from top of head to bottom of chin. And she's wearing it back and flat.

If you remove the top but leave the sides in place, the apparent squatness is going to increase.
posted by DU at 7:20 AM on June 18, 2010


I never noticed how similar Christopher Walken and Johnny Depp look. Weird.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:23 AM on June 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


Another famous sufferer: primatologist Jane Goodall.
posted by albrecht at 7:23 AM on June 18, 2010


3/20. And I thought two of them were Val Kilmer. And I thought Donald Trump was Alec Baldwin.

But everyone I know is aware I have this (and I'm not the type of person who gets on the internet convinced I have OCD or Asperger's)
posted by sourwookie at 7:29 AM on June 18, 2010


This makes an appearance in Scott Bakker's interesting and somewhat creepy Neuropath, where the person suffering from it cannot even recognize his own face in the mirror. That would be pretty weird.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:30 AM on June 18, 2010


ugh. did really poorly on that test. It was extremely frustrating, like some part of me knew who those people were, but not the right part. What was your name again?
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:33 AM on June 18, 2010


Weird, I did pretty good on both tests but putting names to faces is something I often have a lot of trouble with. Especially if the person changes their hair before I've got their face and name permanently linked. I usually need at least 3 tries before that happens. If someone changes their hair it's like I never met them before.
posted by amethysts at 7:34 AM on June 18, 2010


As always, I got 3/15 in the famous faces, average for me. I did an impressively well 51/72 on those creepy mannequin heads, though I'm not sure if that takes in the "just after you've stared at one face only" numbers (which I believe I got perfect).

I have: not recognised a very close friend after she got a major haircut; not recognised someone the same day I met them when they were showing me around somewhere because they changed clothing; been unable to even identify having ever known family friends, much less know their names. I can't keep half the characters on any given tv show separate, only the ones with distinctive hairstyles. (This makes The Wire very slowgoing for me.)
posted by jeather at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmm, I got 19/20 (and I wasn't at all familiar with the one I missed) confirming my suspicion that actor/actress recognition and cross-referencing is my utterly useless superpower.
posted by usonian at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2010


I have this thing where I know I should know the person, I know I've talked to them before, but I just cannot place them.

The most horrifying example of this was a few weeks ago; I ran into my downstairs neighbor while out and about and knew I should know her from someplace. I racked my brain. Did we go to grad school together? Couldn't have been high school... I know we didn't work together... was she the girlfriend of a coworker? I smiled and said hi and went on my way... then I saw her in our driveway when I got home.
posted by desjardins at 7:49 AM on June 18, 2010


Jane Goodall also has this condition. She describes it in Reasons for Hope, her autobiography:

"I suffer from an embarrassing, curiously humbling neurological condition called prosop-
agnosia, which, translated, means I have a problem in face recognition. I used to think,
that it was due to some mental laziness, and I desperately tried to memorize the faces
of people I met ..."

(quote taken from this article, a pdf)

She mentioned it both times I've heard her speak - it's a huge handicap for a woman who spends something like 300 days traveling the world giving lectures and talks. I can't imagine how disorienting it would be to travel and know that I've met people before, but not recognize them. This combined with the fact that she's one of the most recognizable women in science must be a huge strain on her when people expect her to remember them on sight.

What I find interesting is that she knew a significant number of chimpanzees at sight while she was doing her behavioral research. Chimps, though, don't change clothes and hairstyles on a regular basis so it's possible that she recognized chimps from their overall body proportions, personality, and size rather than facial recognition. I know that in order to individually identify the monkeys I studied, I needed as many cues as I could get. If I couldn't easily distinguish between the faces of my own species, it would probably be significantly harder to distinguish between the faces of another. I wonder if this condition is specific to human faces.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:53 AM on June 18, 2010


I did terribly on the famous faces, but got over 90% on the other test. I too thought that Trump was Alec Baldwin.

Huh.
posted by gaspode at 8:00 AM on June 18, 2010


I thought I was going to do terribly on this. I often can't remember what people I know well look like -- how tall they are, whether they have facial hair -- that sort of thing.

I scored much higher than the average person, so it turns out that I don't have this condition I'm just self-centered.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:00 AM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


Could the mods please redact this comment so that people who click through and want to take the test don't have it ruined by knowing some of the celebrities in it?
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:11 AM on June 18, 2010


85%. I thought I did terribly but the test told me I was ok.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:14 AM on June 18, 2010


This is so weird. I hardly ever remember anyone's face until the third time I meet them (even if we've been talking for hours), and even then I'm often uncertain. I tried out the tests, sure that I'd fail spectacularly, and got way above average on both (70/72 or 97% on the last one). I'm not sure what I did wrong.
posted by martinrebas at 8:22 AM on June 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


did great with the creepy mannequin faces (94%), suuucked at the celebs. Of course, I knew she was in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but "Aubrey Hepburn" completely escaped me.
posted by notsnot at 8:32 AM on June 18, 2010


metafilter apparently has an incredibly high population of prosopagnosics on it.

this is a serious neurological disorder, and you can't use an online test to diagnose yourself... and there is a huge difference between not being able to _immediately_ recognize someone you met for a few hours a few days ago, knowing what celebrities look like, and having a part of your brain underdeveloped or underrepresented.
posted by teletype1 at 8:36 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, so the tests linked above target two different things. One is testing your ability to recognize familiar faces and the other tests your ability to recognize unfamiliar ones. I guess that might explain why I scored below average on one test and above on the the other.

Also, is it me or Scarlett Johansson look especially old in that picture? Maybe it's just the way they crop everyone's hair off, which makes them all look bald.
posted by esome at 8:50 AM on June 18, 2010


I got five right. I thought Angelina Jolie was Madonna. In real life I have no problem recognizing the faces of people who I know, and consider myself average in remembering new names. I am going to a metafilter meetup on Saturday and I am sure I will know a couple names from memory even though I have only seen these folks one time for two hours.

The test is interesting but I do not believe my data point will contribute any meaning for their result, unless their result is their test is goofy.

Also I thought Donald Trump was Robert Deniro and I did not recognize Johnny Depp. I forget who I thought he was. Sean Connery? A lot of these people are plastic surgery altered to look more alike.
posted by bukvich at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2010


I thought I was going to do terribly on this. I often can't remember what people I know well look like -- how tall they are, whether they have facial hair -- that sort of thing.

I scored much higher than the average person, so it turns out that I don't have this condition I'm just self-centered.


Okay, this clearly isn't the thing that's going to disprove my self-centeredness, but I realized I don't look at people's faces that much because I'm sort of shy, but when Angelina Jolie is on the cover of People, she's not actually staring back at me, which would freak me out to no end.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:03 AM on June 18, 2010


I sent cortex an email about this already, but yeah, the 'celebrity faces' link is run by Harvard and makes you sign a consent form, so they are at least in theory collecting data (might be an old study that's still up for public-interest value, but who knows.)
posted by heyforfour at 9:03 AM on June 18, 2010


I have this. I'm frustrating to watch TV with, because I can't tell characters apart; I went through two-thirds of the Lord of the Rings movies thinking Aragorn and Boromir were the same person (admittedly a very conflicted dude). I don't even remember what my own face looks like.
posted by sleepingcbw at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2010


I'm frustrating to watch TV with, because I can't tell characters apart

I was 20 minutes into The Departed before realizing that I'd been watching two different characters -- played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon -- and not just one. Also, I just watched Good, and at the end, when John thinks he recognizes his friend in a crowd but it turns out to be someone else, I wasn't sure what had happened, because I couldn't tell if it was his friend or not. That kind of thing happens to me a lot.

And still, I got near-perfect scores on both tests. Maybe I just have to make more of an effort while watching movies or meeting people. I don't know.
posted by martinrebas at 9:35 AM on June 18, 2010


Interesting...I've always considered myself slightly face-blind based on the troubles that I have recognizing people when they change their hairstyle or I see them in unfamiliar places, but I scored extremely highly on all of these tests.

I wonder if it's because in the test situation one has the luxury of really studying the face and isn't forced to make a snap identification.
posted by hellx at 10:05 AM on June 18, 2010


In High School I paired (sub consciously grouped) people together that had similar faces, hair color, actions , interests , even if these people didn't hang around together.
After I moved to a different state , I would constantly see people that I thought I recognised, almost always based on face recognition, shape.
Now it seems like , place or setting, or extreme uniquness is the only way I remember faces.
I think of the convenience store clerk that doesn't remember any of the hundreds of faces they (barely look at daily) .

In conclusion- I saw patterns , yearned for patterns , tired of patterns
posted by unklspot at 10:44 AM on June 18, 2010


I would have done a hell of a lot better on that test if I didn't have to remember everyone's damned *names*. I have an excellent face/voice memory - I could tell you all the random appearances an actor has made in movies over the years, or remember I had seen so-and-so 20 years earlier at some meeting, but damned if I can get my names straight.
posted by Wossname at 10:57 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


> I think it's the hair. I can't recognize them without their hair.

It's surprising how much we rely on hair as a clue to identity (at least, I do, and a bunch of others in this thread). Without wanting to get into racist territory here, I wonder how much of "All [group of people] look alike" is based on [group] having basically the same hair color and texture. In a highly diverse country like the US, I see lots of different kinds of hair and people seem very distinct and individual. When I go to a place like Malaysia, where Malays, Chinese and Indians have distinct facial types but they all have straight black hair, people seem a lot more ... uniform, I guess. Even in the US, when I go to the suburbs where straight blond hair seems to predominate, people seem blandly indistinct.

(And war movies where actors wear helmets most of the time are really difficult for me, despite plenty of closeups that show their faces in great detail. Needless to say, I sucked at that facial recognition test. Lucky for me hats are out of style, or I'd have an even worse time recognizing y'all at meetups!)
posted by Quietgal at 11:09 AM on June 18, 2010


Quietgal - There are some pretty-well studied differences in peoples' ability to recognize and remember faces from their own vs. other races (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_perception) Almost every face perception study I've seen (non-vision cogsci grad student here) crops out the hair, so it certainly can't explain the entire phenomenon. As for the "racist territory" thing - yeah, a friend-of-a-friend studies this phenomenon, and it apparently has a tendency to make grants and institutional review board meetings kind of rough going...
posted by heyforfour at 11:26 AM on June 18, 2010


(hit post too soon)

That's not to say that hair, clothing, etc. don't play a profound role in helping us identify people, though.

I have a terrible time with movies about politics or the military, especially older ones, because of the preponderances of white men with short brown or grey hair in suits/uniforms.
posted by heyforfour at 11:30 AM on June 18, 2010


The only one I got wrong was JFK, who I bizarrely decided was Antonio Banderas.
posted by elizardbits at 11:46 AM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I got about 73% on famous faces, but recognizing celebrities isn't my problem - since I only see them in photos and not in person (weird light, shadows, different angle, height), they always look the same.

No, my problem is recognizing real people, especially people I work with, people I've interviewed or followed extensively, school friends, etc. I need you to be in the same context (ie school or work) or wearing the same clothes I met you in - preferably a numbered uniform.

My default greeting is "How've you been?!" Fortunately I have an awesome memory for names and whatnot, so once I get a hint who they are, all the details come back. And then the poor person is just left with the impression that I'm drunk or high or something - every time they see me.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:57 AM on June 18, 2010


I got 100% on the test. One of my superpowers is celebrity identification, as I've learned from my two years in L.A. I once spotted Fred Willard from the back of his head.

Not the best super power.
posted by Bookhouse at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2010


Ok. Now imagine the prosopagnosia article (first link) being narrated by Christopher Walken as the Googly Eyes Gardener. Anyone with me on this one? Anyone?
posted by lumosh at 12:58 PM on June 18, 2010


Wow. I knew that I'm bad with faces. 7/18 seems to confirm that.
I have problems identifying my own children when they are out of context sometimes.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:24 PM on June 18, 2010


Wait a second! Is Oliver Sacks the man??? IS HE THE MAN?????????????

I got perfect scores on both tests but I also took them both the last time they were posted. Does it still count?? My meager self-esteem will take any gloating opportunity it can get.

In contrast, at one of these sites I took a object-recognition test that had you try to remember eyeglasses. I was pitiful, somewhere around the 10th or 20th percentile. I wonder if it's ever the other way around - poor face-recognition but excellent at remembering inanimate objects.
posted by granted at 1:29 PM on June 18, 2010


I scored average on the celebrity test and above 90% on the grey-scale faces test (maybe I am a lucky guesser, because by the end of the test I was guessing a lot). I don't really think I'm very good with faces, because I often have a hard time distinguishing between my students at the beginning of term (I teach around 100 different students per semester) or recognizing them out of context. I dread the situations where I run into students I am currently teaching but I fail to recognize them--I'm always worried they'll think I'm snubbing them.

Quietgal: Without wanting to get into racist territory here, I wonder how much of "All [group of people] look alike" is based on [group] having basically the same hair color and texture. ...Even in the US, when I go to the suburbs where straight blond hair seems to predominate, people seem blandly indistinct.

A few years ago, one of my classes had a predominance of young women with long, straight blonde hair and young men in baseball caps. I had a hell of a time telling them all apart, even by the end of the semester.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2010


I missed David Beckham and John F Kennedy Jr on the test. According to the test the two I missed and Fred Astaire is frequently unrecognized, but I knew it was Fred right off. I guess I watch too many musicals, and don't pay enough attention to sports or politicans.

Is it important that I know who these faces belong to? Not by a long shot. All the brain power spent on this, its kind of pathetic really.

Totally random tangent to this: my ex used to say so-and-so looked like someone else, based on things like hair style or colour, and I would never, ever agree that they looked the same. But once in our early going-out stage, he came into my place with his habitual goatee shaved off and I did not recognize him at first. He freaked me right out. I really expect people who look like something to stay looking like that, and abrupt changes disorient me.
posted by sandraregina at 1:36 PM on June 18, 2010


Huh, I had no idea about Sacks. Thanks for posting this, 1f2frfbf.
posted by homunculus at 3:22 PM on June 18, 2010


The only one I got wrong was JFK, who I bizarrely decided was Antonio Banderas.
posted by elizardbits at 11:46 AM on June 18 [+] [!]


Hey, I did the same thing too!
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 3:44 PM on June 18, 2010


The only one I got wrong was JFK, who I bizarrely decided was Antonio Banderas.
posted by elizardbits at 11:46 AM on June 18 [+] [!]

Hey, I did the same thing too!
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 5:44 PM on June 18 [+] [!]


Me three. He was one of the two I missed (the other being Fred Astaire...I certainly wouldn't have missed Gene Kelly). Sign me up for the "useless superpower" team.
posted by biscotti at 3:59 PM on June 18, 2010


And me also. I laughed really heartily at myself when I saw the real answer. I feel a little less silly now, though.
posted by emumimic at 5:31 PM on June 18, 2010


I had this happen again to me today at an art festival. Guy walked right up to me and knew my name. I was like, "Oh, hi...um... it's nice to see you?" The guy asked if my parents were at said festival (dad works nearby) so I surmised he was a friend of theirs. He said, "Tell them Steve says hi!" and it clicked. I have known him for years.
posted by desjardins at 6:59 PM on June 18, 2010


I couldn't remember Renee Zwelleger's name so I had to call her 'ole squinchy face-- but I count that as a right answer.

My husband and I complement each other when it comes to watching movies-- he always recognizes faces first and I always recognize voices first. I think voices are much harder to change or disguise than the face. You can change your hair, your make-up, your eyebrows, but neither changing pitch nor accent can alter the exact timbre of your voice.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:43 PM on June 18, 2010


I think the test is pants. The methodology confounds "I can't think of their name" with "I can't recognize their face," so that you lose a point if you don't do both. I got 6 out of 16.

I'm in a job where recognizing people is a Really Big Deal, and I'm constantly wading through large groups of people, in and out of their "normal" contexts. I sometimes forget names, but rarely get that "where do I know this guy from" or "DO I know this guy" feeling that would signal a problem with facial recognition.

I also think the poor quality of the pictures and the lack of color is a problem.

meh.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:16 PM on June 18, 2010


I used to do terribly on this kind of thing, but once I found out about prosopagnosia and heard it described as a problem of a specific part of the brain that's just for faces, I decided I was going to just study faces differently. I have a generally pretty good memory, even for other visual stuff, so I figured there had to be some way to go around the face bit entirely and just memorize people like I would work on memorizing a map or a landscape. I don't know if I use a different part of my brain for faces now or what, but it feels mentally different when I try to recognize people now than it used to - like I'm searching for a fact instead of an image or something. I started doing this with my friends using facebook and branched out to celebrities too. Movies make a lot more sense now - even movies with casts of a good dozen white men I can usually make sense of.

Anyway, I got 17/20 and I couldn't be prouder because I scored something like 5/20 on this test a few years ago. I still can't visualize faces in my mind, but boy can I recognize them.

I'm sure this wouldn't work for everyone, but if you're a person who has trouble with faces but not necessarily with other visual stimuli, you might find that studying and quizzing yourself on your facebook friends helps you get along in life. It really has done wonders for me.
posted by little light-giver at 8:19 PM on June 18, 2010


Er, did anyone else think the first face was Sinead O'Connor?

Nobody told me the photos were cropped.
posted by aws17576 at 9:10 PM on June 18, 2010


4/17 here, and I'm surprised I did that well. I was in a meeting yesterday with someone I'd just met and had no idea who he was. One trick is never to say "nice to meet you" but instead say "nice to see you"; still, you either have to shake hands with everyone or nobody and risk offending people. UGH.
posted by jewzilla at 9:17 PM on June 18, 2010


For years I've suspected that I have this to some degree. I've walked right by a number of people I know without acknowledgement, causing them to think that I'm ignoring them. Family resemblances are a mystery to me, especially when they're talking about babies and toddlers. When I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I couldn't distinguish between the two main characters.

Celebrity test - 2 of 15; went into it knowing Paul McCartney was one of the answers, but I did recognize Tyra Banks all on my own.

Gray faces test - 45 of 72, 63%
posted by BigSky at 10:27 PM on June 18, 2010


I got all the people I was familiar with right (Tyra who?), which is a little surprising to me because I'm not so good at it in real life.

The other day we were locking up our bikes in front of a neighborhood cafe when a woman came up and said "Hi! Hey, how are you?" We chatted for a bit, she said it was her birthday, we wished her well, and she headed off.

"Psst!" I said to my husband, "who was that?"

"That was the neighbor across the hall and one door down, the one I talk about poker with. You know, the one who plays at the $100/$200 table, while I'm over at the $3/$6. Her."

"...oh, right."

And then there was the neighbor I bumped into in the front hall the first of this month who said, "Well, I'm moving out; take care and give your husband my regards." Which I would gladly do, if I had the foggiest idea who he was. *sigh*

posted by Lexica at 10:29 PM on June 18, 2010


9/17 for me, which seems about right. I'm terrible at remembering people from work when I meet them out of context. I have known several sets of identical twins, and like most people have difficulty telling them apart. But I also have problems telling them apart from any other non-identical siblings they might have too.
posted by harriet vane at 11:30 PM on June 18, 2010


Chuck Close is a prosopagnosiac? I had no idea. That makes a lot of sense.
posted by painquale at 12:24 AM on June 19, 2010


2/19. (Obama, and Matt Damon, fortunately wearing exactly the same expression as a Matt Damon poster that graced my wall as a teenager.)

Remembering my students' names has always been a nightmare. In the first class I ask them to sit in the same position in the room for the rest of the semester ("if you don't like your neighbour, decide this now") and to be patient with me. I draw out a seating plan, note down their names, what they said about themselves during the obligatory cringe-inducing introduction exercise, and something about their hair. Hair is a great way to remember people, because you can describe it objectively - but it's a patchy way to remember first-year university students, because alas, they change their hair a lot.

A few years ago, I got photos of my students. I worked really really hard to learn their faces from those, made a point of quizzing myself on the photos every evening for two weeks. And the thing was, that didn't help at all. I could remember which name corresponded to which photo fairly well, but unless the student in question turned up to class with exactly the same expression on their face, with the same background, lit from the same angle, I had no chance. I was memorising the image, not the face the image corresponded to.

I regularly walk straight past people I know on the street without recognising them until they call out to me. I remember failing to recognise my mother several times as a child, running up and hugging a stranger in a similar-coloured coat at the school gates (oh the humiliation). I once failed to recognise my then-fiance because he was wearing a hat. One day, I'm sure, I'll be the sole witness to some horrific crime, get an excellent look at the perpetrator, and be able to tell the police nothing except "um, he had eyes?"

I thought it was interesting that the subject of 2D/3D vision came up in the interviews; I don't have any 3D vision, and never have. OTOH, the reason I don't have 3D vision is as a result of some odd neurological stuff going on with my brain, so maybe that's behind it instead.
posted by Catseye at 12:43 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the test is pants. The methodology confounds "I can't think of their name" with "I can't recognize their face," so that you lose a point if you don't do both. I got 6 out of 16.

But it doesn't - you don't have to get the name, as long as you know who they are (they gave the example of Mick Jagger, where if you said he was 'that guy who sang Satisfaction', you could count it as correct).

Is it important that I know who these faces belong to? Not by a long shot. All the brain power spent on this, its kind of pathetic really.

With respect, I think it's really important to those of us who did badly.

I got 0 on that test. 0. I didn't get Beckham, even though he was the star player on the team I support for years. Didn't get Obama. Or McCartney. Or anyone.

OK, so those are only actors or models or sportspeople. No big deal right? But this is how this plays in real life: I've been at a sports match, planning to meet my oldest friend. Someone wanders past who looks like him, and I spend 15 minutes watching and trying to work it out, before phoning him (it was him). I've been at a bar watching a band, and my sister has sat down at the same table as me, and I haven't recognised her.

Those are extreme examples, but on a regular basis I have a hard time remembering if I've met people before (or recognising people on the street - I'm constantly being told I've ignored someone). Watching movies or TV, I'm constantly confusing characters (as someone upthread said about LoTR).

It's not great, really. [I don't claim to have Prosopagnosia, but I certainly have a hard time recognising people, and it's really quite annoying]
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:52 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did surprisingly well (96%) on the second test. I wondered if anyone else named the faces? For example, one of them looked a lot like Karl Pilkington to me, so I named him Karl. The others were: Androgyny, Elf, Cro-Magnon, Fatty, and Model. I would be curious to see if naming the faces increased recognition.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:52 AM on June 19, 2010


I got 6 out of 18, counting a few "that guy from that harvard movie" and "the redhead from thelma and louise" style answers. But I remembered the names of colbert and obama, and also guessed totally wrong on a couple, and then a bunch looked kinda familiar but I just couldn't place them at all, and when the name came up, I was like, yeah, I was never gonna get that.

I thought I was doing better on the mannequin test, but then it got harder. I got 61% there.
posted by mdn at 9:25 AM on June 19, 2010


89% on the face recognition test. What I realized is that I recognize people entirely by their eyes and eyebrows. I guess that is why I have a hard time recalling noses and faces that aren't particularly striking.
posted by griphus at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2010


I wondered if anyone else named the faces?

I did it just that way as well. I even mentally referred to them as "Androgynous," "Fatty" and "Caveman" (along with "Eyes-Too-Close-Together-Guy" and "Angry.") The one with the giant eyes was "Grey," though.
posted by griphus at 10:01 AM on June 19, 2010


I too have now discovered that my problem is not with faces--(I scored 99% on the second test) and pretty well on the first. (Antonio Banderas for me too.) This despite years of claiming I had a difficulty.

So either I'm a self centered asshole, or I'm simply too overwhelmed in social situations to remember faces connected to names. Like ever.
posted by RedEmma at 12:26 PM on June 19, 2010


Secret Life of Gravy and Grifus, I got 99% on the second test and I also nicknamed the models... similar nicks too: Elfycuteface, Caveman, Fatboy (Fratboy, etc).

I think the answer is absolutely that nciknaming the faces makes recognition easier, but the question becomes, is a good facerecognizer able to nickname faces because he/she can so easily identify distinguishing characteristics?
posted by Jezebella at 10:26 PM on June 19, 2010


oop, griphus....
posted by Jezebella at 10:27 PM on June 19, 2010


I recognize people by the way they walk. This may have to do with my crappy eyesight. Years ago I arranged to meet my boyfriend of five years at his place of work (he worked alone). I walked in the door and immediately thought: Who is this guy working here instead of [boyfriend]. Always embarrassing when that happens.
posted by saucysault at 11:36 PM on June 19, 2010


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