Tuesday, September 07, 2010


I just read a fascinating article “Face-Blind” in a recent New Yorker, which might explain my sometimes difficulty in recognizing people I should know and giving them names.  It turns out many people in the population have the condition “prosopagnosia” to varying degrees.
In fact there are people who in the worst case see all faces alike and can never recognize even a close relative.  I’m not that bad fortunately.
People who suffer from this condition often appear to be anti-social because they fear being in a situation where they will be exposed.  It’s far safer for them to simply avoid other people.  
My particular problem is in quickly coming up with a name.  Just this past week, I had two such encounters with people I hadn’t seen for several years.  I immediately recognized these two men and knew the context of how I had once associated with them.  But until about 20 minutes later in each case I couldn’t pull up the names of Sam and Nick.
Those with prosopagnosia often have difficulty in recognizing places as well.  I think I’m OK there and I have a keen spatial awareness of places like parking lots.
Although this condition can be brought on by illness such as a stroke, for many it is in their genes, with whole families suffering from this lack of facial recognition.  
Today’s photographs were taken as I finished this article and had a post-physical latte at  Peregrine.  A bee continued to take an interest in my coffee instantly recognizing its face as something he wanted to sample!


Blogger lacochran's evil twin said...

You didn't have trouble recognizing their faces. You had trouble retrieving their names. And, then, only for a little while. I'd suggest you suffer from nothing out of the ordinary.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto...sounds well within normal to me.

I often have trouble w/both names and faces (a liability in my line of work). As I get older (and less self-conscious?), I just ask people for their names (and/or where I might know them from) more than I used to. Usually people are really sympathetic and not offended.

Last week I passed somebody in a restaurant who seemed very familiar, but I couldn't place them until three days later -- one of my doctors!


7:44 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

LA, Anon -- I still find it frustrating that I don't seem to have the instant recall for names that so many other people have. People like to be greeted by name. And it's always nice to be able to introduce someone to the person you are with.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

NO, I think many of us have the same problem. I certainly do. I think of the name eventually--usually hours later.

11:57 PM  
Blogger lacochran's evil twin said...

L'shana tova, Barbara!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

Yeah, I think it's pretty normal not to be able to retrieve a name instantly -- particularly for someone you haven't seen in years.

I saw that article but didn't read it. I wondered if it didn't say more about the human propensity to assign names and labels to "conditions" that might really be within the realm of normal! (Except in extreme cases -- people who can't recognize a family member or friend, for example.)

6:51 AM  
Blogger Merle Sneed said...

Seems pretty normal to me too. As my doctor tells me, when you hear hoof beats think horses not zebras.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I always panic that I won't recognize people, especially when we've only met once or twice. It's happened, a lot, even with people I know. Their faces don't register. I never really thought about why that happened!

Fitting with my word verification today: angst.

9:57 PM  

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