I can recognise a famous model whose picture is often posted on tumblr because of her distinctive eyebrow shape, and it makes me feel super human. Or, like, normal human.
itsthursdayagain asked: For me the hardest thing to deal with is movies. Forget recognizing actors- I have trouble keeping the characters separate (I though Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt were the same person during the Oscars). My family loves to tease me about this, but it's extremely embarrassing to have to keep asking "Is he the guy from the last scene, or is he the bad guy?", only to find out that they're one and the same. Any tips?
Oh man, I feel ya. Films are so difficult because they give you less cues for telling differences amongst characters. I’ve tried memorising hair and eyebrow shape in the past, but that doesn’t work the best. I’m still getting people confused or thinking that two characters are the same person the entire film. The best recommendation is to watch things around people who are understanding and will help you. My friends will laugh at times when I ask who is who, but for the most part, they quickly tell me the information that I need without any question. They’ve come to understand that I honestly need the help, so it’s no longer a big deal.
Anonymous asked: First off, I'm glad that this blog exist and that you feel open to educating the public on a matter that is still not full understood. I do not have prosopagnosia but I am very curious about. I understand that individuals tend to difficulty recognizing faces but not objects. In your personal experience, have you ever noticed any difficult recognizing multiple faces if it were to be drawn in-front of you so that you can identify each component of a face as they emerged to make a whole face?
If the faces were side by side, I would still be able to detect differences, regardless of whether they were drawn in front of me. But just seeing something created in front of me doesn’t seem like the most helpful. I’d probably go right back to my usual identification techniques of breaking the face down into shapes to see if anything was recognisable. Chances are, you could draw famous portraits or people I know, and I’d still not be able to identify them.
bana-ceo asked: Thanks for answering my question! I have another one, (you don't have to answer if it's too much), but I found it interesting that you said when you look at two faces side by side, they look identical, and you have to look for the tiniest of details to tell them apart. How about traits like nose shape, eye shape, distance between lips and nose, etc. I'm going to guess here, is it that you can see those distances/shapes, but seeing it all together on a face is difficult?
Pretty much. Faces to me are not whole pictures; they’re a series of little bits and pieces. I can break a face down into its components and look at shapes, but putting all of that information together in memory would mean that I’d have to memorise tons of little shapes on every face that I encounter, and I honestly don’t think that our brains are capable of using that much information at one time. We just don’t have the working memory capable of holding all those details to be used simultaneously. For most people who can see the face as one piece or the bigger picture, this isn’t a concern. But for people memorising details of a face, I think that’s one of the issues we run into.
Also, certain aspects of the face are easier to look at than others. Nose shape, eye shape, etc. are actually pretty difficult to me. I’m more likely to look at hair or freckles or skin tone. The only shapes that are a bit easier for me are eyebrow shape and jaw-line because they are often very simple to memorise and yet overarching when it comes to identifying someone.
bana-ceo asked: Hi! I'm just a curious person that doesn't have prosopagnosia, but really interested. I've read a whole bunch of articles and gone through this blog, but I'm still having a really difficult time grasping what exactly it means that you cannot recognize faces (that sounds really stupid omg), but when you say you can't recognize faces, does it mean that as soon as you turn away from a face you can't recall it, or when you look at a face it's all blurry and distorted?
I can answer this from my perspective of not being able to recall a face after I’ve seen it as well as when I look at people side by side, they tend to look identical. It’s as though all faces are so much the same that you have to pick the tiniest of details to tell the difference (such as if two people have different mole placements on their face or different hair lines). I can look at someone all day and still not be able to picture their face later on. (I used to play a game on campus where I’d look at someone, look away whilst trying to maintain the image of their face in my head, then look back at them to see if my image matched. It never did. Or if it did match, I couldn’t figure it out with certainty. It was a rather masochistic game.) I’ve never personally seen any faces as blurry and distorted—just all the same, really.
Anyone else want to weigh in?
Let’s Talk About Face-Blindness (Prosopagnosia)
There are two types of face-blindness. Apperceptive Prosopagnosia gets a lot of attention, because it’s the most drastic.This type of face-blindness doesn’t recognizes faces as a pattern, let alone individual differences. You know how when you look at an electrical outlet, how it looks like a face? That’s an automatic response in your brain, which is looking for faces. People with Apperceptive Prosopagnosia don’t experience this, because to their brain, a face has no use.
Associative Prosopagnosia recognizes that a face is a face and doesn’t go any further. While Apperceptive is a failure to recognize a pattern, Associative recognizes the pattern but fails to store it on an individual level. This gives an Associative Prosopagnosiacs the ability to compare faces…if the people are side by side, or they are looking at two photos at the same time. Once they stop looking at a face, they forget it.
Prosopagnosia can be developmental or acquired. That means that it can be something that develops in the brain from a very young age, or it can be the result of another condition or injury to the brain. Estimates put Prosopagnosiacs at 1-2.5% of the population, though it’s hard to estimate because, unlike other visual agnosiacs, they’re pretty good at compensating. Generally, there’s two ways of doing so: avoidance or over-friendliness. The avoidant take might be the person who puts their hood up and their headphones on and looks at the floor the entire time they travel to and from. It gives them plausible deniablity. While the over-friendly Prosopagnosiac will smile, make eye contact, and greet everyone with equal friendliness, until they can get enough extra information to place that person.
Prosopagnosiacs are also ‘super-noticers’. They have to rely on other, less reliable information, like facial hair, eye color, hair cuts, gait, clothing, etc.
For me, I’m a developmental Associative Prosopagnosiac. That means I actually cannot remember your face. I have a variety of tricks I use instead, which include the above listed traits, and context. However, that information is constantly checked and rechecked because I can’t be sure it’s right. So if my partner shaves off his goatee or wears a hat… I have a small panic attack that there’s an intruder in the house until he talks to me. It also means that I have trouble reading your facial expression unless it’s exaggerated. This feeds into social anxiety. And I hate crowds, in part because it’s hard for me to be sure that the guy coming towards me is someone I like, and not my dangerous ex. A lot of things get remembered as semantic memory, instead of episodic.
Her name is Lily. She has big green eyes. Freckles. Red hair. It’s unusually red for a natural hair color. She’s about 5 ft 9 (comes up to my eyes). Slender. Probably a size 10. Likes green. Wears jeans frequently (stated). Long neck, small shoulders. Long legs. Bites her thumb nail when she’s listening. If I’m describing her, she’s the tall, hot, leggy red head in Accounting. I will remember that I find her attractive.
I do remember when I find someone attractive, but my perception on that is actually based on how much I like them. Since I can’t remember your face, every time I see you is like the first time. So if you’re attractive to me personality wise, I will actually see you as increasingly attractive physically the more I see you. The opposite is also true.
Question for my fellow Prosos :D
I haven’t noticed this in myself, though maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but do you find your facial recognition decreasing as you become more tired?
I haven’t noticed it, either. I’m pretty consistent during time of day. The only times when I’m more likely to mess up are during times of stress or absent-mindedness.
Any other prosopagnosics want to weigh in?
My face blindness is getting worse lately. You can probably tell if you saw that post where I thought Anderson from Sherlock was a homeless man.
I feel like it might be getting worse because I’m getting overconfident like “I’m 24 and I’ve been working hard on recognizing people and I’m getting results, so I’ve got this shit down” but I’m not sure if it works like that.
It also pisses me off that nobody really takes faceblindness seriously. Maybe if my parents had actually been concerned when I couldn’t recognize my dad, I’d recognize people better now.
I think that no matter how old you are and how aware you are of being prosopagnosic, you are still going to run into complications. Films and television are particularly difficult as well because you receive less clues as to who the person is. When recognising someone, it’s common to use their gate, small details about hair and style, voice, etc. A character on the television does now have as much to offer for you to memorise, thus increasing your chances of error.
If your family and friends don’t take you seriously about face blindness, you can send them to several online resources that help explain what prosopagnosia is. This blog is mostly full of personal anecdotes from people online who are analysing aspects of the disorder, but websites such as faceblind.org and this Youtube video can be helpful.
Anonymous asked: Thank you sharing your experiences with us. I've always had trouble with faces, though I'm very lucky to be able to recognise close friends and family; if I've seen someone enough times, I can remember them, but it wreaks havoc with 'acquaintances' and professionally. When I found out about prosopagnosia I joked about it with my family who know what I'm like,but it's only after reading experiences online that I realised you could be mildly prosopagnostic, which I probably am. Keep it up :)
Yup, prosopagnosia is more of a sliding scale rather than a cut and dry ‘you have it or no’. It’s the same for most people with recognising faces. Some people are considered ‘super seers’, who literally remember every face they’ve ever seen in their life. Other people consider themselves to just be pretty darn good with faces. Then there are people at the opposite end of the spectrum like us who have noticeable difficulties in recognising and understanding faces yet aren’t as severely prosopagnosic as people who cannot recognise anyone in their life.
It’s also worth mentioning that prosopagnosics make up for difficulties in facial recognition by memorising other features on a person. I’m fantastic at memorising hair styles, clothing (I memorise entire wardrobes of acquaintances), and gait. For people with mild prosopagnosia, these countering techniques can nearly make up for any deficit in facial recognition.
I’m glad that online resources could help you out. Between learning about prosopagnosia in two of my psychology classes and reading it about it by chance in a BBC article, I would have never known that there was a cognitive reason for my trouble with recognising people. I’d always just assumed that maybe I was too self-absorbed to really get to know others, and it had plagued me for years. Now I know the reason and ways to make up for it. Plus, it’s always nice knowing that you aren’t the only one out there with the same struggle. :)
THE FACT THAT IDRIS ELBA GOT CHARLIE HUNNAM MIXED UP WITH THE OTHER WHITE GUY THAT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HIM IS JUST THE FUNNIEST THING TO ME OMG
The post of our people.
Dollhouse: Racist Asian Moment
In Dollhouse 1x09 “A Spy in the House of Love”, Sierra is sent to impersonate an NSA agent to retrieve a guarded file. Sierra specifically is used for this mission because she’s Asian and can look like an Asian agent, Saito, who I guess has a predictable train schedule or something. When Sierra moves to tranq Saito, there’s a moment where they sit together, and you can see Sierra’s dressed just like her.
Unfortunately, the two women look nothing alike. At least to my eyes. The difference is like night and day to me.
I initially just looked at this as just a little bit of racism where it was assumed that Sierra would look enough like Saito on a glance, and I didn’t completely tie it in with the stereotype that all Asian people look alike. However, on reflection and a re-watch, I’ve come to better understand what is going on here: They’re supposed to look identical. Not just that she’ll pass as Saito if people who know her don’t look at her closely; they’re supposed to be identical.
When Sierra enters the NSA building, she has to go through a strict security checkpoint. The guard examines an image of Saito, which displays a headshot of Saito’s actress Kae Shimizu (given the incredible credit of “Asian Woman”), and he thinks Sierra is her with a direct comparison. What the frak?
I’d joke about the NSA being so racist that they’ll let in any Asian woman just because one works there, but it’s not the NSA; it’s the Dollhouse TV show. Specifically, I’m going to blame episode director David Solomon.
The weirdest part to me is that… I think… most people, when watching this show, can’t tell them apart. I think I might be the only non-Asian who can see the incredible difference between them at a glance. My prosopagnosia—the mental disorder that usually has me stumbling around in confusion because I can’t recognize people—actually works to my advantage here. I have difficulty recognizing people when they make minor changes to their appearances, meaning I excel at recognizing differences. I speculate that most non-Asian people are like me in my normal experience of prosopagnosia: stumbling around in confusion.
I got into the “Mark Does Stuff" sites, in which Mark Oshiro reads and watches stories of cult appeal and reports his reactions to the existing fandoms. For his Dollhouse-watching, he videoed himself watching the episodes and put it up on Vimeo. Mark is a Latino man adopted by an Asian family; he is a politically vocal liberal concerned about race-representations in the media; and he has specifically criticized Sherlock for being racist toward Asian people. And he apparently couldn’t tell Sierra and Saito apart either. In his reaction video, he appeared genuinely awed as he said “Wow, they look identical.”
Yeah, to me, they look about as identical as the Hands of Blue from Firefly:
I speculate that most people recognize each other through generalizations of the whole of the face. When the subject changes their makeup, they can recognize them because the general patterns remain they same—whereas I struggle. So, when neurotypical people who don’t get a lot of exposure to Asian people look at Asian people, they see a new general pattern on every face and can’t distinguish because they haven’t exercised the skill to pinpoint in on subtlety, the way comes naturally to me. I’m sure it’s not on the level of a disability to them as it is with me, though, as the NSA wouldn’t really let in any old Asian person. They just need to consider it important to learn the subtleties.
With the Hands of Blue, I’m sure every neurotypical American of every race can tell them apart despite their uniform appearance. White people are considered important, so their facial nuances are easily detected. That Sierra and Saito are considered identical by the show and by its watchers indicates just how truly unimportant Asian people are perceived as being in American culture.
This is actually super interesting because I’ve always been known in my family as the only person who can tell people of different races apart and yet have the most severe prosopagnosia. Similarly, spotting differences can be easier since I often have trouble seeing what’s the same. Another thing that helps is that I break faces into lots of little shapes, and this helps with identification of people from any race rather than looking at the face as one whole piece of information.
'Faces' by Diane Winger Review (Part 1)
I mentioned in a post a few days ago that I was currently reading an advanced copy of a book from the author Diane Winger called ‘Faces’. The book features a main character who develops prosopagnosia after a brain injury from a fall whilst rock climbing, and then the plot moves from there into a mystery. I’ve not yet finished the book due to starting a new job, but I’m reading my way through it and want to give you all a part one of a review. Once I’ve finished the book, I’ll post an official review for you all.
At this point in reading the book, I find that the experiences of the main character as she adapts to her prosopagnosia are both familiar and eye-opening. For those of us who have had prosopagnosia since birth (and often have other family members with the disorder), we learn from very early on how to memorise hair, clothing, gait, posture, and location of a person. What we ignore is that these skills are not as easy for those who have prosopagnosia due to fusiform gyrus damage. We’re given a realistic view of the challenges faced by someone who must start from scratch to learn who the people are around her, and I believe that this gives us a better perspective of what is argued to be a more common type of face blindness (or at least better known).
As I read more, I’ll let you all know about the progression of the main character’s adaptation to life with prosopagnosia as well as some more tid bits of information, so stay tuned.
Hey there, folks!
I haven’t had a chance to check in much lately since I just graduated from university and then started a new job. I’m working as a caregiver at an assisted living for those with severe Alzheimer’s, so it’s not only a challenge or learning who my 15 residents are but also making sure that they stay alive and well. It’s an enormous amount of responsibility and time and has been stressing me out a great deal. I’ve talked more about it on my personal blog here, including how prosopagnosia affects my ability to learn about my residents.
Coming up in the future, I’ll be writing a review about a new book I’m reading called Faces by Diane Winger. She was kind enough to send me an advanced copy since the main character has prosopagnosia, so I’ll be telling you folks about it once I’ve finished the book. So look forward to that!
Anyway, I hope you all are doing well. Keep on keepin’ on.
@ Diane Winger
Hi! I got your message but didn’t have a way to reply in private. Concerning your question, yes, I’d be interested in reviewing the book, preferably in paperback. If you’d like a better way to contact me, my email is email@example.com.
Hi, I got your message, though because it was on anonymous, it can only be published publicly, and I didn’t know if you were all right with that since it had your name and phone number.
I’d love to be able to help you with the article on prosopagnosia. Unfortunately I don’t have international calling (I’m living in the US), but if you happen to have an email to get in touch, I’d be more than happy to chat there.
Should any of my followers be based in the UK and have prosopagnosia, please let me know if you would be interested in helping give an interview.