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January 4th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

Human Factor: Faces never familiar to famed doctor

In the Human Factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces you to survivors who have overcome tremendous odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Be inspired by their successes, as we have been. Today, renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks explains how he has coped with the rare but real disorder known as face blindness.

I have had difficulty recognizing faces for as long as I can remember. My inability to recognize schoolmates would cause embarrassment and sometimes offense— it did not occur to them (or to me, for that matter) that I had a perceptual problem. I recognized close friends without much problem, but this was partly because I identified particular features: Eric had heavy eyebrows and thick spectacles, and Jonathan was tall and gangly, with a mop of red hair.

I had no trouble recognizing my parents or my brothers, though I was less adept with my huge extended family and completely lost trying to identify them in family photos.

But I still sometimes fail to recognize my assistant, who has worked with me for  27  years. I have what neurologists call prosopagnosia—an inability to recognize individual faces as most people can.

I sometimes don’t even recognize myself. Thus I have often apologized for almost bumping into a large bearded man, only to realize that the large bearded man is myself in a mirror. One day, sitting at a sidewalk café table, I turned to the restaurant window and began grooming my beard, as I sometimes do. I then realized that what I had taken to be my reflection was not grooming himself but looking at me oddly. There was a gray-bearded man on the other side of the window, who must have been wondering why I was preening myself in front of him.

Although such examples may seem comical, they can be quite devastating. People with very severe prosopagnosia may be unable to recognize their spouse, or to pick out their own child in a group of others. Anne F., a correspondent of mine with a lifelong prosopagnosia, notes that her father and sister both have the same condition: Her father, she writes, “was unable to recognize his wife in a recent photograph [and] at a wedding reception he asked a stranger to identify the man sitting next to his daughter”–her husband of five years at the time.

We prosopagnosics need to be resourceful and inventive, to find ways of circumventing our deficits. We may become expert at recognizing people by an unusual nose or beard, spectacles, or a certain sort of clothing. Sometimes we recognize people by voice, posture, or gait; and, of course, context and expectation are paramount—one expects to see one’s students at school, one’s colleagues at the office, and so on. Such strategies, both conscious and unconscious, become automatic.

Nonetheless, I tend to avoid conferences, parties, and large gatherings as much as I can, knowing that they will lead to anxiety and embarrassing situations—not only failing to recognize people I know well, but greeting strangers as old friends.

Face-blindness affects a small but significant minority of the population—2 to 3%, perhaps 6 or 8 million in the U.S.  alone. And at the other end of the spectrum, there are another 2 or 3 percent, super-recognizers who may instantly recognize the face of a waitress or bus driver seen only briefly years before.

Harvard psychologist Ken Nakayama and other researchers have been working on finding the neurological basis for this wide range of abilities to recognize faces, as well as the social consequences of face-blindness (more information on their work is available at www.prosopagnosia.org).  For myself, I find it a relief to go public with my prosopagnosia—and know that I am not the only one.

Human Factor appears on "SGMD," 7:30 a.m. Saturday-Sunday

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Filed under: Brain • Human Factor

soundoff (117 Responses)
  1. Buster Bloodvessel

    Dr. Sacks is my hero for his work on neurology. Good to see someone interesting being interviewed.

    January 4, 2011 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Karen

      A Really remarkable story. With media and the internet can expose the truth about the human experience. So sick of people who dont understand.

      January 4, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
    • Vicky Z

      I was introduced to this neurological disorder when my husband had a stroke 3 years ago (in the occipital lobe). The disabilities he complains the most about include face blindness (prosopagnosia) and color blindness (chromagnosia or something like that). His neurologist is very surprised these were the problems he was left with.

      January 4, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
    • Dmoney

      Wow do these people have other problems with memory...like facts ...etc. or just faces?
      In other worlds do they recognize a Camaro or a Horse.....or a baseball glove? or only faces?

      January 4, 2011 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
    • sara

      This is so sad and heart breaking. This guy is my hero for his work in making people aware of neurological issues in an interesting way. Didn't know he suffered from this condition...

      January 4, 2011 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • mel

      To Dmoney–

      They may have other problems, depending on what caused the prosopagnosia, but from what I remember of my neuro classes, a specific part of the brain–the fusiform gyrus, I think–is responsible for recognition of faces specifically (and of face-like patterns, like seeing a face in a potato's shape or something). When something has damaged that area–and maybe there are people born with poorly functioning facial recognition brain structures–then people can remember all sorts of other things, but utterly fail to recall faces. The same is true for many other mental functions, subconscious and not, because different structures in the brain enable different functions, and different areas of the brain store different information.

      Another interesting example is that people can lose the ability to understand spoken words, but can still be able to comprehend what they read. Others with different deficits can't read a lick, or perhaps cannot recall words to match meanings, etc., but the rest of their language abilities are mostly unimpaired. The brain is so complicated (and so fascinating).

      January 4, 2011 at 16:08 | Report abuse |
    • ms funk

      Read 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat' By Dr. Sacks 1985 study

      January 4, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
    • Ollie "The Balls" Sacks

      What you gon' do with all that junk?
      All that junk inside your trunk?
      I'ma get, get, get, get, you drunk,
      Get you love drunk off my hump.
      My hump, my hump, my hump, my neurological hump,
      My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps

      January 4, 2011 at 23:24 | Report abuse |
    • WW

      For me, it's specific to faces. I can identify different models of car much more easily than I can identify people I've known for years. That's one of the reasons that, before I had a name for this disorder, I thought I just wasn't trying hard enough.

      January 5, 2011 at 01:19 | Report abuse |
  2. Maryland, USA

    Washington Post humorist Gene Weingarten has this condition. He wrote about it in a side-splitting 2008 essay, "Losing Face." To find it, search for: Gene gets no recognition

    January 4, 2011 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lance Corporal

    Oh my gosh! Thanks for writing about this! For my entire life I have wondered what the heck was wrong with me because I have ALWAYS had trouble recognizing people and finally learned to cope by looking for clues such as voice, glasses, etc. I have Aspergers (which I can deal with) but have always been crippled when seeing people outside of their normal environment.

    IE: Having trouble recognizing a colleague from work at the GYM because their clothing is now different.

    Now there is a name for this!

    January 4, 2011 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Lance, you should read THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT. In fact, everybody should read that.

      January 4, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
    • Carol

      OMG I have always thought I was the only one who had this problem and I have always tried to hide it from everyone. My family doesn't have a clue.

      January 4, 2011 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
    • Smileygirl

      THAT is a FANTASTIC book!!!

      January 4, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  4. Dr Bill Toth

    Dr Sacks – your contributions to our beloved field of Neurology are large and many. May you never mistake yourSelf for a hat!!. Thank you. Live with Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    January 4, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. LivinginVA

    My mother has this issue especially with people out of context. She says that it has made her very outgoing – when someone smiles and nods to her at the grocery store she's never sure if it's a random friendly person or someone she sees every day so she has to smile back, say hello and ask how they are doing – just in case.

    January 4, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. MakesYouThink

    Interesting that we use the "mirror test" to identify self-awareness in other animal species, but this man and others with the disorder would fail it. Maybe we need to rethink about how much anthropomorphism colors every aspect of our world view.

    January 4, 2011 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Orchid

      One of my cats passes this test on a regular basis. I've used a water-based marker to color parts of her face in blue and then let her loose. Later, after feeding and napping, over to the litterbox she goes, which is in front of a mirrored sliding door. She definitely sees what's wrong, will paw at the mirror and then just clean her face,

      January 4, 2011 at 16:00 | Report abuse |
    • Paganaidd

      I only ever don't know myself if I don't know its a mirror. If I *know* its a mirror, I know its me, not just a woman who looks sort of like my mother (which lots of women do).

      So, no, we wouldn't fail the self awareness–it would just take us a little time to figure out, "Oh, look, it does what I'm doing, it must be me."

      January 5, 2012 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
  7. toirrah

    I think I am one of the other 2 to 3 percent I reqonize kids I saw years ago and when i see them again I still know thier face (not always the name but usally the face) even though they won't remember me

    January 4, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Smartypanz

    I don't know the term, but I think I inherited it from my dad. I had this weird
    trait of mistaking certain faces for other people. It got better over time, but was
    confusing straight past my 20's. Whatever facial recognition circuitry was developing in the brain, mine took too long.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. vel

    I've had problems with this too. I need the whole world to wear "My name is..." badges. As so many of said, Dr. Sacks, you've done wonders in neurology. and "Makesyouthink" great point about mirror tests. I've also seen where some animals simply don't care about their image in a mirror.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AL

      Actually, since in the second example Dr. Sacks was anticipating his reflexion in a mirror, he would have passed the mirror test with flying colors.

      January 4, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
  10. Scott

    Don't go chasing waterfalls.....please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Bryan

    I am face blind. It makes meeting new people tough. Movies can be very difficult to follow. Running into old acquaintances in new situations is a challenge. I have trouble reading facial expressions. I can't form a mental image of anyone I know.

    I end up relying on hair style, clothing, build, gait, voice, and other characteristics to recognize people.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zena

      Yes, movies are extremely difficult to follow because everyone looks alike. It's easier when the actors are of different national origins/ethnic backgrounds because it gives me features to use to be able to distinguish who is who. But it would really help if everyone wore name tags, as another poster suggested.

      January 4, 2011 at 15:25 | Report abuse |
    • WW

      I agree on the name tags. I've always liked conventions because people are conveniently labeled! And God, yes, movies are a nightmare. I'm always wondering who that person is, and if they were someone I should have remembered from an earlier scene. Friends don't understand why I don't recognize some actor ... "Don't you remember seeing him in so-and-so movie?" No, I don't, I CAN'T. I'm thankful that the classic TV shows I like have very stereotypical, very distinct characters; I can tell them apart. But if one of the actors showed up at my front door, I wouldn't know him from Adam.

      January 5, 2011 at 01:26 | Report abuse |
  12. Betty

    Is he high?

    January 4, 2011 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • some emo kid

      Betty, he climbs mountains, and there's no one above him in neurology. He was the most intelligent guy at Albert Einstein College. If he is, I want some of what he's smoking.

      January 4, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
    • Sherie

      Gee, What do you thing?

      January 4, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse |
  13. KatR

    Well....sunny gun! I'm not as wierd as I thought I was. I don't have the severest form of this face blindness. I readily recognize family members. But to recognize a classmate from 40 years ago? The lady in the grocery store who calls me by name and I have no idea who she is? I've always said that my brain had some loose connections and laughed it off. Sure good to know that I'm not the only one. Especially, when my husband is at the other end of spectrum with the ability to remember not only the name of his 2nd grade teacher but what she looked like.......memories from 50 years ago!

    January 4, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tim

      That might be because of her physical appearance lovely face or big b00bs

      January 4, 2011 at 15:39 | Report abuse |
  14. Craig Shearer

    Cool. A new wife every night.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Faced

    I have a similar, even more rare condition known as 'kingsopagnosia". Every face I see looks just like Larry King. Imagine my suffering growing up, having to ask "are you my mom, or Larry King?"

    January 4, 2011 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob, Virginia

      Paint your bald spot?

      January 4, 2011 at 14:54 | Report abuse |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      Is it like Ed Zachary syndrome? They look ed zachary alike?

      January 4, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse |
  16. Kwid

    If you are as much of a pig as I suspect, I doubt that.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. sealchan

    I expect that face recognition developed because in social animals it is an important method not only for individual recognition but also facial expression as communication...being shy myself I largely avoid eye (and hence face) contact and more recently have found that the face does communicate information about a person's state of mind that I had rarely before utilized. Do those with prosopagnosia also fail to process facial expressions?

    January 4, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pat

      I am face blind - that is, I cannot recognize people's faces. I go by context, clothes, voice, individual facial features, etc. But I seem to be really tuned in to how people are feeling. I recognize feelings and can always tell when someone is in distress or is lying, or whatever, when most other people don't notice these feelings at all. I am almost always right in my assessment of feelings, and some people, like my step-son, are worried when I look at them really closely because they know that I seem to look right into their head and tell what they are thinking. But I might not recognize them the next time I see them. ?? Go figure!

      To answer another question, I can recognize individual animals. One of the ways I try to recognize people is by their pets that they have with them.

      January 4, 2011 at 21:55 | Report abuse |
    • catgirl

      I have a mild form of this as well. I recognize all friends and family members, but people out of context I hardly ever recognize. It gets rather embarrasing to meet a neighbor at the grocery store and not recognize them. Or someone that works at a particular place and they know me, but I don't know them!

      I have often wondered, as someone else said, if it is because I am shy tend not to make eye contact. So I really don't look someone in the face and take in their individual characteristics. Also, like others have said, I recognize animals better than people. I know neighbor's by the dogs they walk. Without the dog, I wouldn't recognize many of them!

      Now if I see them a lot, I can learn to recognize them, but if I don't see them often, it's like I have never met them before.

      January 5, 2011 at 21:19 | Report abuse |
  18. Steve

    Very brave of you to face this situation head-on.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Linda

    I have had trouble with facial recognition all my life and just realized it after an eye examination in my 50's. The optometrist asked me if I had trouble knocking things over, with facial recognition and other hand/eye coordination.

    I have had an untreated "lazy left eye" that is very near sighted. My right eye has been 20/20 up until presbyopia occurred. Now I need glasses. My left eye just didn't function unless I would cover my right eye and then my vision was extremely poor.

    I was told that part of the frontal lobe having to do with facial recognition does not develop properly when vision problems as mine exist. After knowing this, I felt more comfortable having a "diagnosis". Also, I was diagnosed as adult ADD and this also was welcomed, knowing something was wrong.

    I have always had to cope with the above problems a.w.a. Bipolar I, since the age of 16. I am an RN with a M.A. in Counseling Psychology so the above diagnoses have not held me back. I have worked as an RN for over 30 years.

    I have attended conferences, etc., and do not recognize people the following day because they have on different clothing!

    January 4, 2011 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Star

    Yes, movies with many characters are *very* difficult to follow because you can't figure out which character is which (unless they are wearing the same clothes, hairstyle, etc, in every scene). I get no sympathy when I explain this to people, though; those who don't have this problem think I'm "just not trying hard enough"! It's caused me all kinds of social difficulties and outright fear (losing my children in a crowd). My husband makes a game of it – let's me walk past him multiple times searching for him in a crowd before I realize it's him.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Drin King Water

    I used to be the same way when I was a kid. I couldn't tell what my parents looked like. I was at a store once and I walked away from my mother and I couldn't remember what she looked like when I was trying to find her. For the longest time faces were just a blank to me. Somehow, by the time I turned 9 something clicked and I was able to remember what people looked like. Still not sure if it was my real mother whom I left that store with that day.

    January 4, 2011 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jason Rabin

    I too have had trouble with faces my whole life, which is compounded by the fact that I don't really remember names either.

    Just the other day I almost mistook my wife for some lady in the airport sitting in a different seat at the gate. Luckily I was clued in by the fact that she was sitting in the wrong direction and that caused me to pause to think about it before sitting next to her. Even more luckily I don't think my wife noticed my mistake and simply assumed I had forgotten which seat she was in (rather than actually mistaking another woman for her).

    I don't think I'm as bad as the guy in the story, but I still get embarrassed from time to time. A few months ago I met a close friend of my cousin's, someone I had known for years (and had just seen a few months previously) and I simply had no idea who she was. I think the problem was context – she was in a building food court where I never would have expected to see her. Had she been at my cousin's house I would have known her instantly.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. SKSK

    I think I have this too. Every time I look at Dr. Oliver Sacks..........I see Jeff Bridges in Ironman.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Buster Bloodvessel

      Nonsense, Robin Williams played him in the movie.

      January 4, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse |
  24. Jon

    We always make assumptions about people things and subjects. But there're exceptions to most assumptions, as assumptions themselves are based loosely on facts. I wonder what the guy on the other side of the window was thinking when Sacks was grooming his beard looking straight at him? What kind of assumptions was he making based on the facts in front of him?

    January 4, 2011 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Harvey

    Wow, makes one wonder if Dr. Sacks would have been as professionally productive as he has been if his fusiform gyrus had been working in the normal fashon. Instead, this brain region may now be specialized for other functions, such as generating brilliant neurological insights.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. deb

    Wow, this was an interesting and enlightening article. I've never heard of this before but maybe it explains some of the people I've passed in the hallways at work over and over again and they fail to acknowledge me. I used to think they were just rude but over the past few years wondered if maybe they had aspergers or a mild form of autism. I know that as I've aged I don't remember faces like I used to but this would be a very hard thing to live with day in and day out. I would think that I would tell basically anyone I met that I can't remember faces if this were me. Explaining your situation to people can eliminate many misunderstandings.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Zena

      Try being in our shoes. I've spent the past 30 years trying to explain to my husband (and others) that I can't recognize people, and all I get is ridicule, not understanding. They think it's a joke. Thank you, Dr. Sacks, for bringing this into the open. Now maybe people will take me seriously.

      January 4, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
    • tristeza

      this makes me laugh a bit–I have neither autism nor prospagnosia, but I often get called on not noticing people in the hallway. The thing is, it's important to some people to say hello and notice others in passing, and it's not important to others. If I'm thinking about something, or if I'm in a hurry on my way to the bathroom, I just don't notice others. No intent to be rude, no real disorder. Things like neurological disorders are a GREAT reason, however, to check your interpretations of the actions of others. Why believe someone is trying to be rude or doesn't like you, when they may have a problem recognizing you due to a disorder? Is it worse if they just have something on their minds? In general, leaving people's actions open to interpretation by them is a better way to go than assuming they mean you ill.

      January 4, 2011 at 17:12 | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      Now that I realize what is wrong with me and now that I realize other people have the same thing, I may well warn people about it. But I taught large classes at college for many years, and insulted so many of my students by never recognizing them out of class. If I had it to do over again, and knowing what I know now, I would introduce myself in the first class and then tell them about my face blindness. Maybe that would avoid any bad feelings and hurt. Luckily on social occasions my husband acts as my "seeing-eye dog". He's always been very sympathetic, even if mentally, he's shaking his head.

      January 4, 2011 at 22:05 | Report abuse |
  27. Maryland, USA

    And they say that gynocologists are bad with faces...

    January 4, 2011 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Star

    Also, when you meet someone, conversations often start out quite awkwardly because you are trying to figure out who the person is, or if the person really is who you think they are. Those first test comments/questions are needed to help you know how the follow-up conversation should go – is this someone from work, the kids' school, the gym, etc?

    January 4, 2011 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. barb

    Looking at other people's scrapbooks is murder! "Hey, doesn't Allison look cute?" Spoken response: "Uh, yeah... really cute! " (Unspoken: Which one of those four blond girls is she?) Old b&w movies full of men with close-cropped dark hair and conservative suits? There's just no point. I still couldn't recognize Henry Fonda by the end of 12 Angry Men. I love seeing that others have this and I'm not just inattentive.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Arlene

    I'm like that not with all people but with some. Also not with all people but with many I should see them for a few times in different occasions and only after a few times meeting them I'll recognize them. But this doesn't happen all the time or with everyone. I cant say why I remember some and dont remember others? I wonder if this can be sort of a mild prosopagnosia??

    January 4, 2011 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Dan

    There are some faces that I would like to forget.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Sanseh

    I found out I had this problem when watching tv I could not recognize the actress because she changed her hair style. I think mine is the inability to focus on object as things appear to constantly move in and out of focus/ constantly moving relatively like the nose would move compare to face.. It gets worse when my blood pressure goes up. . I wonder is it the same problem , as my inability to focus. I recognize people best in context. I don't have so worse, but with bad vision it seems so.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Dan

    I can't remember names but that is because I don't care.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Maryland, USA

    For those who missed Common Sense's veiled reference ("3,500yrs of inbreeding will do that and much worse Sachs"), he or she is referring to Jews.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Noel

    He is still a doctor? Imagine going back in for check ups?

    January 4, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Paganaidd

      That's what charts are for.

      January 5, 2012 at 11:26 | Report abuse |
  36. Maryland, USA

    For those who missed Common Sense's veiled reference, he or she is referring to Jews.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. sara

    you are a moron

    January 4, 2011 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Buster Bloodvessel

      Were you speaking to someone in particular, or just addressing the whole human race?

      January 5, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse |
  38. GTO

    way to rip a story right from NPR.

    January 4, 2011 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Who Are You Again?

    I'm not serious, but it's obvious for me. And yes: you can recognize other things. I will recognize a dog I've seen once - but not their owner. But when my husband was overseas for a year, I was watching the guys come off the plane and thinking... "Doe he have a blue suit like that?" Come to think of it, my staff really teases me too!

    January 4, 2011 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. David

    I have had mild face blindness my whole life. Nothing severe. But very difficult socially because everyone thinks you are being rude. And bad in business because I can't recognize clients from past meetings. I tell people I have this and they always think I am joking.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Doctor J

    Oliver sacks has gone a little kooky, 'difficulty recognizing faces' is not a disease. Sorry.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RichardSRussell

      Being without an arm isn't exactly a disease, either, but I bet it qualifies as a handicap.

      January 4, 2011 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • WW

      Call it what you like, it's a personal form of torture. Until I found out this was an actual condition, I spent all my life believing (and being told) I just wasn't trying hard enough. But no matter how hard I tried, it didn't help. As a small child, I was terrified of being separated from my mother in public because I wouldn't be able to recognize her. No child isn't trying hard enough to recognize their own mother! One fall, I couldn't recognize a person who had been my roommate for the previous summer. It's all too real, and it's something you can't fix, only learn ways to cope with (and dream of a world in which everyone wears nametags!). I'm a safe person to mug; if you don't say anything, I'll never pick you out of a lineup. I can't work in any job where being able to recognize people is important. The sheer invisibility of the problem is the worst part. If you tell someone you're color-blind they don't try to make you match colors, but if you tell them you're face-blind (and then explain what that means) they still don't understand why you can't recognize your co-workers when you meet them at the mall.

      January 5, 2011 at 01:40 | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Buster Bloodvessel

      I bet your doctorate is from Facebook University in Farmville. Do you know a syndrome from a disease?

      January 5, 2011 at 12:05 | Report abuse |
  42. Nick

    This is like a bad Will Ferrell character...

    January 4, 2011 at 16:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Kaosbear

    Sometimes when I stare at something hard enough, it burst into flames. This article just gives me the courage to admit that.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. David

    Just to be clear to those who don't have this...our vision is fine. For me, there are certain types of faces that are more difficult than others. And even people I can recognize, all they have to do is where a hat or be in a place that I am not expecting to see them and it is like they are complete strangers. I will even not recognize my wife if I run into her in a place I am not expecting to see her.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      The same with thing me, I'm glad that they printed this

      January 4, 2011 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
    • WW

      You know those 3D pictures made of patterns - the ones you can't see until you stare at them just right? Did you ever have a time before you learned what "just right" was, when you could stare at the things and not see the shapes that everyone else was seeing? If you did, that's what face blindness is like - except it's all the time, and you never figure out how to make it go away. Everyone around you can see something ... they can identify people by their faces ... and you can't. You KNOW you're looking at exactly the same thing they are, but you just can't identify that person out of context. Once I know who someone is I'm just like anyone else, but I can't get to that point of knowing who they are as easily as most people.

      January 5, 2011 at 01:48 | Report abuse |
  45. John D Lamb

    Comments please.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Som

    I doubt there will ever be a "cure" for this, but I'm glad it's getting more and more publicity.

    I remember going to a friend's party when I was in college about 10 years ago. I ended up talking to this girl for a couple hours and had a very good conversation. I found out a few days later that she thought I was a jerk because apparently I had walked by her the next day downtown and didn't even acknowledge her presence - didn't say hi, didn't even nod in her direction.

    It's these kinds of situations that provide the most anxiety. I wonder about all the opportunities I've missed (either socially, professionally, whatever) because I couldn't recognize someone. I wonder about how many people have come to have negative impressions because they see me as being rude for not coming over to say "hi" at a gathering.

    I've learned to try to educate as many people around me as I can about this condition. My hope is that as more people are educated on the fact that this condition exists, people may not jump to conclusions so quickly and may consider that maybe the person they're talking to may be incapable of recognizing them.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Som

      Heh, call it dumb, but there's a tiny part of me that worries that one day I'll be the only witness to some sort of crime. Unfortunately, I'd never, in good conscience, be able to testify that I was sure about the person who I thought I'd seen.

      January 4, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
    • Som

      However, this brings up another, more serious implication to this condition as it pertains to the judicial system. How often are convictions based primarily on eye-witness testimony? I read about this "2-3 percent" of people that are face blind, and the "2-3 percent" of people who are "super-recognizers" and I think, "what about the 94-96 percent in the middle?" Are they all equally capable of recognizing faces?

      January 4, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
    • Som

      I have to imagine that there's a graded spectrum of recognition ability – ie, it's not just "off", "on", and "super on". If that's the case, is it fair to convict people of criminal acts based on the eye witness testimony of someone who is, say, in the bottom 10 percent of that "middle range"? Heck, even the 2-3 percent would suggest to me that for every 100 crimes for where there was a single eye-witness (for example, r*pe, assault/battery, robbery, etc), that 2-3 of them were identified by people that were clinically face-blind. Makes me think of the Benjamin Franklin quote that it's better to let 100 guilty people escape than having 1 innocent person suffer.

      January 4, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  47. Justin

    How do you recognize your teachers?
    How can you be sure you're making love to the right person?
    How do you watch your child at a play?

    January 4, 2011 at 16:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RichardSRussell

      Not sure about the teachers or the play, but if the person you're making love to thinks it's a good idea, it's probably the right one.

      January 4, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      I always had trouble recognizing my teachers. They always just thought I was really shy, and would speak to me first. But I'm not at all shy.

      January 4, 2011 at 22:12 | Report abuse |
  48. Bill

    Me too, it always feels a bit awkward that I never forget a face. I even sometimes pretend that I don't know certain people.

    I'm terrible with names, but I never forget a face.

    But that being said, I'd much rather have this than not be able to remember any face – that sounds horrible.

    January 4, 2011 at 16:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Som

    That quote is not entirely applicable here since eliminating eye-witness testimonies would result in many more guilty people going free than innocents suffering, but it seems that if research can at least produce some sort of verifiable test to determine the ability of people to recognize faces, then this test should be administered to anyone who provides an eye-witness testimony in court.

    (sorry for having to post in several replies... it took me a few tries to realize that my posts weren't getting through because the word r*pe was triggering the filter).

    January 4, 2011 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Som

    That quote is not entirely applicable here since eliminating eye-witness testimonies would result in many more guilty people going free than innocents suffering, but it seems that if research can at least produce some sort of verifiable test to determine the ability of people to recognize faces, then this test should be administered to anyone who provides an eye-witness testimony in court.

    (sorry for having to post in several replies... none of my messages were getting through... I think it's because it was filtering that word)

    January 4, 2011 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
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