Saturday, April 27, 2013

What's Your Name? Welcome to the World of the Face-Blind

♥KatB Photography♥
I've never been good at remembering people. I will meet someone and vaguely realize I should know them, but if I can't bluff my way to enough information to identify who they are...I have to ask. "Excuse me, but I can't quite place your name?" This has happened with neighbors and schoolmates and even first cousins and aunts I've seen plenty of times over the years. Just not every day. And it's been this way since I was a girl.

It's odd. I mean, I have a damn good memory for other things. Books. Plots. Where things are. I'm not kidding when I say if I have been someplace once I can always find it again. Anywhere in the world. I can do that. I can name paintings, buildings, countries by shape, match stock market symbols to companies, and put names to cartoon characters. But for the life of me, I can't always put a name to a face.

I've amused my husband for years because I confuse actors. All the time. Especially Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. I can't tell the two apart. I know they look different. Put their pictures side by side and I can see that. But I can't tell you which is which.

The other day I learned about face-blindness. Prosopagnosia. People who have this disorder struggle to recognize faces. They recognize people by context instead: mannerisms, hair style, voice, and other information. I read that and I said to myself, "That's me!" I recognize people by where they are, their height, their clothes. It even explains my love of quirky people and why I would rather speak to an auditorium full of people than approach a small group.

There was a test. I took it. It's free and simple. All you have to do is name that famous face. Here's the test.

My score: 57%

My husband: 98%

Most people score above 90%.

I am not severely afflicted. It might be argued I don't have it at all. People with severe prosopagnosia often don't recognize their own spouse or children by face alone. I haven't failed to identify a loved one yet. Still it's kind of comforting to know my faulty memory for faces and names might not be because I don't care enough or try hard enough. I do care. I do try. I really think I just...can't.

So if I meet you at a conference or convention...if we meet for coffee and have a great time (we would, for sure)...and I act like I don't remember who you are the next time we meet, just give me a clue. Your name would be a good start. Because I do remember YOU. I remember your name, the things we talked about, the name of your dog. I just may not recognize your face.

Want to know more about this condition? Here's a good article. 

So what about you? Is every face a stranger? Or are you like one of my middle-aged friends who can spy someone he hasn't seen since grade school and say, "Look! It's Jimmy Smith!"

Photo: ♥KatB Photography♥


  1. I scored a 97! I didn't think I'd do that well. I only got one wrong.

    1. Congratulations! My husband said at the time he thought he didn't do well, either. and I actually thought I did pretty well, considering, until I saw the result. :( Kind of interesting, though. :)

  2. I got 89%, which was better than I expected. In real life, I have a hard time placing people if they've changed their hairstyle or if I meet them somewhere other than the usual context.

    Funny fact: a lot of older people with dementia will recognize me even if they can't recognize their own family members -- probably because I am one of the few people they know who is (even partially) Asian. I think you'd remember me well enough, too, if we met. :)

    1. You're right, I probably would recognize you. :) You'd be visually distinctive for me. You are, of course, distinctive already in many other ways. :D

  3. I got a 96%. My problem is not a lack of recognition, it's a lack of memory for names. I can remember plots and stories, and context for things... but titles, names, etc. tend to be hard for me to remember without repeated exposure. This is definitely an interesting post though Tali! Just another thing to keep in mind when meeting people, and then meeting them again. They might not be jerks snubbing you; they might have a real problem! :P

    1. I bet you describe books by relaying the plot, right? "You know, the book where..." :D I tend to do that, too. I guess librarian would be tough job for you. But yeah, it never occurred to me people who don't seem to remember me may just have a problem with remembering *anyone*. I'll be more tolerant about that in the future, too.