If you have followed our work over the years here and at faceblind.org, you'll know that we've worked with a lot of folks who suffer from severe difficulties recognizing faces: a condition known as prosopagnosia or face blindness.
We get a lot of emails from people who take the face recognition tests on TestMyBrain.org and want to know what sorts of experiences might indicate that someone has face blindness. If you suspect you have face blindness, you may find you identify with some or many of the experiences below.
The list was compiled with the help of the Yahoo Faceblind group.
Failing to recognize someone in your immediately family, in particular, is something that people with normal face recognition rarely (if ever) experience. Horror stories include things like picking up the wrong child from daycare or failing to recognize your spouse in your own home. We tested one family of people with face blindness who wore name tags at family reunions! Says one woman with face recognition difficulties: "Put my daughter in a crowd, shave her head, and I wouldn't recognize her unless I knew she was in that crowd."
This is a common coping strategy. One person with face blindness notes that remembering people can be stressful when you are constantly taking this approach: "I must remember that it's Mary who owns the brightly colored brooch, and John is the one with the limp." Another person with face blindness notes, "[I] find it easier to recognize people from a back view than face-to-face." You have trouble following films or television shows that have more than a few distinctive characters.
Some people with face blindness avoid movies and television for this reason, although one sufferer notes "I've never had problems with cartoon characters!"
Failing to recognize yourself can be a disconcerting experience, but is not uncommon among people with face blindness. Self-recognition can be especially difficult in childhood photographs or when distinguishing oneself from a sibling.
Explained one person with face blindness: "While friends seem to meet people they know all the time, [I] rarely seem to run into acquaintances." Some people use the technique of just smiling at anyone they encounter: "You are friendly to everyone, just in case they might be someone you know."
Many people with face blindness use hair as a way to remember people. When a person's hair changes, that memory cue is lost. The mother of a child with face blindness recounted how her son would become very upset if she approached him suddenly with her hair pulled back or after a shower (i.e. when her hair was wet).
People you know expect you to recognize them. Failing to recognize someone might make you seem aloof. Many sufferers report losing friends and offending coworkers because they have failed to recognize them.
Face recognition tests like the one on our main site can sometimes help identify a face recognition problem. However, please note that some people with face blindness still score well on these sorts of tests! We are only beginning to understand the differences in visual perception and memory that might contribute to face blindness, and there are likely many types of face recognition problems that our tests simply don't tap into.
If you have any questions about face blindness, cognitive assessment, or any of the material here, please contact us.
If you are in the Boston, MA area and would like a formal assessment for prosopagnosia by a licensed neuropsychologist, please contact us.