Monday, November 26, 2007

UK Mirror Prosopagnosia Article

Everyone looks the same to me
"The hall was booked and the invitations sent out. Mary Ann Sieghart and her husband David had been looking forward to their joint birthday party for months.

But as the day drew nearer they started to dread the event. Though many of the 200 guests had been friends or colleagues for years, Mary Ann knew she had little chance of recognising anyone except her immediate family.

And she couldn't rely on husband David for help as, incredibly, he also suffers from the same rare condition that means they can't distinguish one person from another by their faces.

Prosopagnosis, which means they are both face blind, has also hit the couple's daughter Evie, 16, and Mary Ann's mum, Felicity Ann. Their other daughter, Rosa, 14, is unaffected.

Remarkably, Mary Ann even held down a high-powered job on a national newspaper.

She says: "It's a great source of social embarrassment as I just can't remember if I know that person and if I do, where I might know them from.

"Of course, we knew everybody who was coming to our party but, out of context, we knew we'd have no chance of working out who they were and we couldn't even help each other."

The couple eventually spent most of the night last August trying to memorise what each guest was wearing so they could remember who was who for the evening.

"I can usually cope by bluffing my way through but, of course, with so many people that was always going to be difficult," says David, 55.

And it's typical of the way the condition affects the family's daily lives. "We've always been useless at parties and usually spend the whole evening whispering 'who was that?' to each other so you can imagine how nervous we were holding our own," says Mary Ann, 46.

"My daughter even joked that we should all have T-shirts saying 'Don't blame me, I'm prosopagnosic' to get us out of tricky social situations.

"It's awful when people think you're being rude by not recognising them even though you might see them every day."

Mary Ann first became aware of it when she was eight. Reading her favourite Enid Blyton adventures she was amazed by the way the children were able to give such accurate descriptions of the baddies to the police.

"I remember thinking I wouldn't know where to start and I certainly wouldn't be able to recognise them," she says.

Her mother had also been terrible with faces and the pair often joked that Mary Ann must take after her.

Then, as a teenager watching movies, Mary Ann realised she was struggling to keep up with the plots because she couldn't tell one character from another.

She says: "Me and my brother watched a film with Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.

When it had finished he asked me which character was which and I had to confess that I didn't have a clue.

"Both were good-looking with blue eyes so there was nothing to help me tell one from the other."

Again, Mary Ann and her family just put it down to her being bad with faces, the way some people are with names. But things got even harder when she went to university.

Each day brought a sea of new faces and Mary Ann was constantly apologising for not knowing people, even though she'd already met them several times.

"I felt so guilty for having to keep asking somebody their name and who they were when they clearly already knew me," she says. "Some people thought I was lazy or uninterested but nothing could have been further from the truth."

Slowly she started to remember the names of her friends, relying on things like the colour of their bag, the length of their hair and the style of their glasses. Of course, that meant she'd be back to square one again if that person changed their appearance. "If a friend had their hair cut I could easily pass them in the street and not have a clue who they were," she says.

It was even harder if a person had symmetrical features, as a big nose or wonky ears helped trigger her recognition. So Mary Ann developed strategies that would help her learn a person's name without having to offend them by asking again. "If I was standing with one person I couldn't remember and then another approached that I also didn't recognise I would invite them to introduce themselves to each other, which would give me both their names."

In 1986 Mary Ann was introduced to David. One of the many things they had in common was that he was also "bad with faces".

"I'd always thought I just had a bad memory," explains David. And when they married in 1989, David joked that they should ask their guests to wear name badges.

The couple couldn't even do normal things like watch films - Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise look identical to them.

Even when their eldest daughter Evie started to show signs of being unable to recognise patterns aged seven, the couple still assumed it was just one of those things. Mary Ann's mum had been the same and now it seemed their daughter would be too.

Her teacher suggested Evie see a educational psychologist who was shocked when she struggled to put together a six-piece puzzle of a human face. But still she wasn't diagnosed.

She had problems recognising friends, too. "Once she told me she'd met a nice friend, she didn't know her name or what she looked like, only that she wore a red jumper," says Mary Ann.

"I had to point out that the girl might not wear a red jumper every day so Evie had to work out another way of recognising her."

Then in July last year Mary Ann read an article about prosopagnosis.

Amazed, she realised she had all of the symptoms, as did her husband, daughter and mother.

"I was so excited. I knew instantly that there was no question I had this condition. I wasn't forgetful, I wasn't uninterested, I had a real medical condition," she says.

She volunteered to be tested by a professor researching prosopagnosis at University College London. A series of tests confirmed that Mary Ann was indeed prosopagnosic.

"It was a relief to be officially told that the problem was not my fault," she says. Shortly afterwards Evie, David and Felicity Ann were also diagnosed with the same condition.

Felicity Ann, 80, was delighted to have a diagnosis after so many years and now suspects her father had the condition too.

She says: "Back in my childhood people weren't interested in a problem unless you were in pain.

"It was an enormous effort to try and hide that I didn't know who I was talking to, especially at work.

"Even now I find it easier to smile at everybody I meet, that way I can't offend somebody by not knowing them."

But luckily nobody in the family has the most severe form of the condition, which leaves sufferers unable to identify members of their own family or even themselves in the mirror.

Scientists are still trying to discover why the area of the brain that processes faces has not developed in prosopagnosics.

But, knowing they have a neurological problem is enough for the family as they can now confidently explain away why they can't recognise a friend or colleague.

David, who is less severely affected, still prefers to bluff his way through introductions as explaining the unusual condition is simply too complicated.

But Mary Ann says: "At last I can tell people I'm not being rude and ask them not to be offended, though sadly some still are. I find this particularly difficult. Perhaps we will take up Evie's T-shirt idea after all."

My Brilliant Brain: Make Me A Genius, is on National Geographic Channel this Sunday at 8pm."

I loved this article, because it gives that many more people an idea of what it is like to have Prosopagnosia. The more people know, the less I have to explain:)

I too could never tell Paul Newman and Steve McQueen apart.

This article is from

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Faceblind View: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Andrea, over at Faceblind View (movie and television reviews from a prosopagnosic perspective) just posted her review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Its the latest in the Harry Potter movie series.

The Faceblind View: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (in IMax 3D!): "Being such a huge Harry Potter fan, it's hard for me to tell how easy the characters of the latest installment would be to tell apart. I mean, I've read this book twice, I've seen all the other movies and read the books, and therefore I know what's going to happen. I know who should be doing what.

If this describes you too, you won't have any trouble with this movie. The one time I had even a speck of face trouble was a moment when Hermione was standing next to Harry in the room of requirement and she had her bushy hair pulled back. I didn't realize it was her until she talked. But it wasn't important to the plot."

Strangely enough, the one spot I remember having trouble identifying someone in the movie was nearly the same as the one Andrea had trouble with. Hermione was standing in the room of requirements, facing another student who was supposed to practice casting a spell on her. She had been in the room in a few different shots, but when I suddenly saw her alone standing opposite the other student, I didn't recognize that it was her. I asked G "who is that girl?". I did not realize why at the time, but I guess it must have been the hair?

Follow the link to Faceblind View to read the great description of all the characters, plus a review of the 3-D effects available when you see The Order of the Phoenix at an IMax theater. I especially recommend PA's read it before seeing the movie if they have not read the book.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Face to Face Networking Takes On a Whole New Meaning

This post by Andrea gives insight into some of the extra effort a prosopagnosic goes through at work trying to avoid social missteps.

Social Captioning « Andrea’s Buzzing About:

The primary problem of being faceblind is not only do I not recognise people — rather, I have to consciously identify them — but that my abilities to do so fade over time, so people whom I used to be able to figure out will become strangers again for lack of regular contact. The secondary, and somewhat insidious part of being faceblind is that it plays hell with “networking”. I never know as many of my coworkers or peers when I am around them, and cannot keep track of them later on as useful contacts.

When I interview for jobs, talk to people at conferences, or attend meetings it is profoundly difficult for me to remember with whom I spoke, even though I write down names and titles. I’ve tried taking down covert notes, like “Mr M: mustache, coördinates program, office 2nd floor”. But then later on I find that knowing Mr M has a mustache isn’t useful, because later on I will be around two more mustached guys of the same “type” who are all in the same environment, and that I never talk with Mr M in his office on the 2nd floor. I will later come to know Mr M by the particular shape of his balding pate and the way he wears his mobile phone on his belt, but when I am taking those notes, those are not the features that are first noticeable.

There’s also a Ms B at the meeting, but I won’t know until a month later that she was the one whom I really needed to “map” out as a contact. Yet another month more after that realisation, I will finally ascertain that she was one of the people with whom I chatted at that initial meeting. Making that important connection required a lot of careful analysis, drawing connections and ruling out confounds between dissimilar data sets, as though I am playing a particularly difficult level of Sudoku involving personnel instead of numbers. In a Sudoku game, there’s always a ninth that has just a couple of numbers provided, so it’s the square with the numbers that are filled in last, through pains-taking analyses of extensive subsets of if-then algorithms.

Its a very thoughtful post and the puzzle analogy is spot on. I also feel like I am always trying to fit together pieces of a puzzle.

Are You Prosopagnosic? A list of questions to help you tell.

This is a link from a story in the Boston Globe a year ago. It is interesting to read the questions that have been developed to help recognize if someone is prosopagnosic. Kind of an initial screening you can try on yourself. Would you have trouble answering these questions affirmatively?

Identifying face-blindness - The Boston Globe:
June 14, 2006

Some questions used to determine whether someone may have prosopagnosia:

Would you have problems finding your party's table in a restaurant?

Would you recognize a famous actor or politician, if you saw him or her unexpectedly in the street or in a restaurant?

If somebody looked into your office, asked a questions and left, would you be able to recognize him or her some minutes later in a group of people?

At larger functions or parties, do you talk to someone for a couple of minutes and then find you can't remember his or her face a few minutes later?

Picture yourself in mall or at the airport: If someone you don't recognize greets you and starts talking to you in a very familiar way, what do you do? (Typical answer from someone who has trouble recognizing faces: I would try to find out from his or her voice and from the subjects discussed, who he or she might be.)

SOURCE: Thomas Grüter

Follow the link for an additional list of resources.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"2 Crabs" Blogger Realizes He Is Faceblind

Another one! Found this blogger talking about his realization that he is probably prosopagnosic after viewing Good Morning America's Pa piece. Many people know that something is not right with them, but seeing a story like this helps them finally put a name to it. Judging from the way Mr. Crabs describes his problem, it sounds like he definitely is prosopagnosic.

2 Crabs: The Absent-Minded Expat

Although I've always had a pretty decent memory, I've never been good at recognizing or remembering names and faces. I'm a complete blank. Everyone looks exactly the same to me. I'm a complete blank with faces, not a good thing when you're a journalist. Occasionally, somebody will come up to me on the street and say "Oh, hello Mr. Crab!" and launch into a conversation, while I'm standing there smiling, listening, and thinking to myself, "Who the HELL is this person!?!?" When I'm with Mrs. Crab, it's a bit easier because I can flash her a silent, inquisitive look as if to say, "Throw me a bone -- who is this and how do we know him/her?," at which point she'll insert a clue or two into the next sentence.

Turns out there is actually a medical condition for this problem with the really original name of " Faceblindness." The scientific name is prosopagnosia. I think I may have a less severe version of this memory impairment. So now I have a scientific excuse for not remembering you!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Faceblindness: Video From Good Morning America

Here is the link to the video that was on American television this morning. It was seen on ABC's Good Morning America.

ABC News: Faceblindness: Forgetting Familiar Faces: "How would you feel if your wife or mother didn't recognize you across a crowded room?

For Elaine Scheib's family, it was a reality. Scheib, who has perfectly normal vision, could not recognize the face of her husband, Bill, until they had dated for a year, and it took four years before she memorized her children's faces.

Scheib is part of the 2 percent of the population that suffers from a condition called prosopagnosia, also known as faceblindness, according to Harvard University professor Ken Nakayama, who has studied faceblindness extensively.

People with the disorder, which can lead to severe social problems, lack sufficient wiring in the part of the brain that recognizes faces. For doctors, it provides insight into how the brain functions."

First the Wall Street Journal this week, and now this. I am so happy! I find it very difficult to tell people I have this, because it requires so much explaining, and often people don't think its real. The more people know about it, the lower the barrier to being able to discuss it with them.

ABC News: Meet a Family Whose Members Don't Recognize One Another

ABC News: Meet a Family Whose Members Don't Recognize One Another: "Some people never forget a face.
But for 40 years, Sellers, a college English professor, has never been able to remember one. Even a face she's known since birth.

'I wouldn't be able to recognize my mother out of context if she was walking down the street. And then, along with that, I mistake people for her,' Sellers said."

I have had this same problem, not with my mother (I usually hear her coming:), but with my sister. It is the most disorienting, disconcerting feeling in the world. I can usually recognize my husband G, but I have walked by him enough times to not take it for granted. Thankfully, he often wears a baseball cap, so I just have to memorize which one he is wearing on any given day.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

PA Article in Wall Street Journal

Mysteries of the 'Faceblind' Could Illuminate the Brain - PAGE ONE

YES! That's Page One! I went to the WSJ online and there was the print article in the "Page One" section.
Strange Deficit Impairs
Ability to Recognize

July 5, 2007; Page A1

What's New: Research into 'faceblindness' is examining links to brain functions, as well as improved ways to test for the condition.
Coping: Patients say they compensate by recognizing people by their speech, hair or walking gait.
Treatment Possibilities: Exercises used with autistic children are now being tested with prosopagnosia.

This is so exciting for me because the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is a U.S. based paper that we and many of our friends subscribe to. I find that it is so much easier to tell someone I have PA if they have already heard about it. There is a bit less skepticism and less explaining to do.

I realized this last week when a friend from the dog park casually revealed that he had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). He said it in passing, expecting not to have to explain it to me, since there has been so much publicity about it in the last 10 years that most people have a good idea of what it is.

I found myself envious of him for having the wider known neurological condition.

Drawing A Blank Face - Video

Wall Street Journal Video

Here is a video by WSJ reporter Heather Won Tesoriero:

"Drawing a Blank Face
A London artist on Prosopagnosia, also know as "Face Blindness," and the difficulty in not recognizing friends and family. "

Also featured in the video is U.C. London- based Brad Duchaine, one of the leading researchers in prosopagnosia. He is the one who tested me also.

One more bit of information out there for people to help people understand prosopagnosia.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Prosopagnosia in Age Determination?

In an article on about a new law in Tennessee that requires anyone who wants to buy alcohol to be carded, regardless of age, because of the lack of ability of clerks to accurately determine age. There is mention of prosopagnosia in the final paragraph.

Can a bartender tell if you're underage? - By Torie Bosch - Slate Magazine: "The new law might be helpful for any Tennessean store clerks suffering from a disorder called prosopagnosia, or 'face blindness.' Prosopagnosia, which is sometimes associated with a stroke, autism, brain damage, or other neurological disorder, can limit an individual's ability to estimate age at all."

The frustrating thing is that the term prosopagnosia is introduced, but not explained. It is only linked to the lack of ability to estimate age, which is more a possible symptom of not being able to recognize/remember faces in general, and certainly not attributable to prosopagnosics in general. It also does not mention it can be developmental, as well as acquired through brain trauma.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Mechanisms of Deja Vu Explained

Brain mechanism explains sense of deja vu | Lifestyle | Reuters: "By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Most people have had deja vu -- that eerie sense of having experienced something before -- but U.S. researchers have identified the part of the brain responsible for this sensation, and they think it may lead to new treatments for memory-related problems.

They said neurons in a memory center of the brain called the hippocampus make a mental map of new places and experiences, then store them away for future use.

But when two experiences begin to seem very much alike, these mental maps overlap and start to blur."

Of more interest to me was this quote "Tonegawa said the type of memory that allows people to quickly distinguish different faces and places fades with age."

Oh great! That means NT's (neurotypical face recognizers) will eventually be poor at recognizing faces too. Who will we rely on then? I am married to a good face recognizer, and though I am sure he gets tired of the constant questioning, it is so helpful to me to have him there to identify people for me. If he loses his memory for faces, I will be in a bad spot!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Typecasting « Andrea’s Buzzing About:

Typecasting « Andrea’s Buzzing About:

Here is a very insightful post on Andrea's blog about recognizing people she sees everyday, inspired by a "twinning" incident. Twinning is what I call it when you see the same person several times and recognize them as that person, only to later find it was was two different, but somehow similar, people. This is not an unusual occurrence for Prosopagnosics.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Web Site For PA Kids and Their Parents

Find A Face Organization Web Site

Here is a brand new Prosopagnosic web site for Kids. Says the co-founder Anne Mills:
"It's there to provide a service for parents of children and children with Prosopagnosia and other adults interested in helping children with PA, and will be directed by it's members' concerns. Many of the current members do not have PA, as that isn't a requirement for membership.

We are looking for someone with a degree in child psychology, or related field to volunteer to contribute to a monthly question and answer column. Please email me at if you are interested."

This will be a good resource for teachers who need to be aware of the possibility of undiagnosed prosopagnosia in their students. Another good outlet to further public education.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Brain Man, One Man's Gift May Be The Key To Better Understanding The Brain - CBS News

On the American television show "60 minutes", there was an interview with a Savant named Daniel Tamment. He is an Englishman, who is a 27-year-old math and memory wizard. The interview with Morley Safer can be seen in full here.

Daniel's is a fascinating case, but of particular interest to me is the statement he makes to Morley at the end of the interview:

"'One hour after we leave today, and I will not remember what you look like. And I will find it difficult to recognize you, if I see you again. I will remember your handkerchief. And I will remember you have four buttons on your sleeve. And I'll remember the type of tie you're wearing. It's the details that I remember,' Tammet tells Safer."

The problem he is describing sounds exactly like prosopagnosia. It would not be unusual for him to have PA, since he has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome—a mild form of autism. Prosopagnosia often occurs along with both of these conditions.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mind Hacks: When faces fade

This post originated from Specific post link in title.

A March 2005 article in New Scientist reports on a study on a type of inherited prosopagnosia, suggesting a genetic basis for face recognition.

The research was an international effort, led by husband and wife team, geneticists Thomas and Martina Grüter. Notably, Thomas has a particular interest in this area, as he has prosopagnosia himself.

Mind Hacks spoke to two members of the research team about this intriguing study: Thomas on his own experience of prosopagnosia and the genetics of face recognition, and neuropsychologist Hadyn Ellis on the implications for the developing field of 'cognitive genetics'. Follow the title links for the entire interviews.

* * *

Thomas and Martina are part of a team of geneticists from the Institute of Human Genetics in Münster, Germany. They became interested in how Thomas' condition seemed to run in families and decided to study it in more detail. They recruited neuropsychologists from Cardiff University, initiating an international effort to examine the genetic basis of face perception.

The main finding of the study was that prosopagnosia seemed to be inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion, meaning only a single gene from one parent is needed to cause the condition.

Could it really be the case that the development of face recognition relies on a single gene ? We tackled Thomas on this controversial interpretation, but first we wanted to know, what it is like having prosopagnosia?
* * *

How did you first realise you were unable to recognise faces as well as other people?

When I didn't recognize my teachers in the street. Some didn't care, but others were not amused. Most of the time, I wasn't even aware that I had overlooked them, if so, they didn't say a word.

What is it like having prosopagnosia ? For example, do faces seem strange or distorted to you?

Faces look perfectly normal, they just fade in my memory very quickly. I can recognize emotions as well as other people, maybe better.

To most people, not being able to recognise faces would seem a great disability. Why do you think most people with hereditary prosopagnosia are not significantly impaired by their condition ?

They have had all of their life to cope with the problem. They have learned to recognize people by other features like gait [walking style] or voice. And, of course, like colorblind people, they cannot imagine how it feels to remember faces normally.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Face blindness is a common hereditary disorder

This article on recent research into the hereditary type of prosopagnosia (HPA), which came out last summer. There are some statements I noted in bold type.

Face blindness is a common hereditary disorder: "Face blindness is a common hereditary disorder

"In the first study to examine whether the inability to recognize faces can be inherited, researchers found that it is in fact a common disorder that runs in families and is one of the most frequent disorders apparently controlled by a defect in a single gene. The study was published online June 30, 2006 in American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A, and is available via Wiley InterScience.

Prosopagnosia (PA) or face blindness is characterized by the inability to differentiate faces, except for the most familiar ones such as members of one's family. It can be caused by brain injury, but cases where the disorder appears to run in families have also been reported. In the first systematic study of hereditary prosopagnosia (HPA), researchers led by Ingo Kennerknecht, M.D. of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Muenster in Germany, recruited 689 subjects from local secondary schools and a medical school and administered a questionnaire to identify those with suspected HPA. They found 17 cases of the disorder, and of the 14 subjects who consented to further interfamilial testing, all of them had at least one first degree relative who also had it."

"Nearly all affected persons report a problem in deciding immediately whether a face is known," the authors state. Subjects report uncertainty in social situations and the inability to visualize the faces of close relatives or recall mental images of trees, leaves, or birds. They generally have difficulty following TV programs or movies because they cannot tell similar actors apart. All of the PA subjects revealed that they used up to three different strategies for overcoming the disorder. In the compensation strategy, subjects attempt to recognize people by other characteristics such as voice, gait, clothing or hair color. In the explanation strategy, subjects have a ready set of excuses as to why they can't recognize someone, such as being deep in thought or needing new glasses. In the avoidance strategy, subjects try to avoid situations where they might be unable to recognize faces, such as large functions or crowded places.

Inability to recall images of trees, leaves, or birds? Hmmm, I've never heard that before. I would say I'm not affected in this way, but then its not something I have ever focused on. I've heard many prosopagnosics (PA's) have trouble recognizing cars, but I've tested on this and seem to do ok.

The summary hits the nail on the head regarding the 3 coping strategies. One of the reasons I finally decided to "come out" about PA (albeit slowly) was that I noticed I was lying ALL the time, trying to cover up for my lapses, and make sure people did not feel that I took them lightly. My most frequent excuse was probably "I didn't recognize you because I was in my own little world.", implying I was daydreaming, and, of course, I never do that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 The Echo Maker: A Novel: Books: Richard Powers

This is one of the few novels I have heard about that talks about prosopagnosia. The main character learns about the condition in the process of being diagnosed after a head injury. The Echo Maker: A Novel: Books: Richard Powers:

"Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A truck jackknifes off an 'arrow straight country road' near Kearney, Nebr., in Powers's ninth novel, becoming the catalyst for a painstakingly rendered minuet of self-reckoning. The accident puts the truck's 27-year-old driver, Mark Schluter, into a 14-day coma. When he emerges, he is stricken with Capgras syndrome: he's unable to match his visual and intellectual identifications with his emotional ones. He thinks his sister, Karin, isn't actually his sister—she's an imposter (the same goes for Mark's house). A shattered and worried Karin turns to Gerald Weber, an Oliver Sacks–like figure who writes bestsellers about neurological cases, but Gerald's inability to help Mark, and bad reviews of his latest book, cause him to wonder if he has become a 'neurological opportunist.' Then there are the mysteries of Mark's nurse's aide, Barbara Gillespie, who is secretive about her past and seems to be much more intelligent than she's willing to let on, and the meaning of a cryptic note left on Mark's nightstand the night he was hospitalized. MacArthur fellow Powers (Gold Bug Variations, etc.) masterfully charts the shifting dynamics of Karin's and Mark's relationship, and his prose—powerful,"

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

prosopagnosia - Definitions from

American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary - Cite This Source

pros·o·pag·no·sia (prs-pg-nzh, -z-)

An inability or difficulty in recognizing familiar faces; it may be congenital or result from injury or disease of the brain.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary - Cite This Source

Main Entry: pros·op·ag·no·sia
Pronunciation: "präs-&p-ag-'nO-zh&
Function: noun
: a form of visual agnosia characterized by an inability to recognize faces

Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.
On-line Medical Dictionary - Cite This Source


prosopagnosia: in CancerWEB's On-line Medical Dictionary

On-line Medical Dictionary, © 1997-98 Academic Medical Publishing & CancerWEB

Monday, April 16, 2007

3 lbs - Available on iTunes

I just found out you can also buy the 3lbs episode on iTunes for 1.99. It's the one called 'Heart Stopping'.

Here's a URL for it on the the iTunes Music Store

There are four episodes up, even though only three aired.

3 lbs is on BBC1

3 lbs: CBS's cancelled Neurology Drama

I loved this show because there was some fun neuroscience stuff going on in the background as the personal drama of the characters played out. I was truly excited to see the third episode include a story line about Prosopagnosia. Unfortunately, that was the last episode we here in the U.S. were able to see, as the show was cancelled.

I just got a tip that the show is now airing in the UK. The face blind episode has already aired. It's on Sundays, BBC1, at 10.45pm. You might be able to find the episode repeated at some other time. I don't know how many episodes they will continue with in the UK, but if you like brain science, its a great show.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Comic Book Illustration

What I see when I look at you.

What I see in my mind when I look away. Hopefully your clothes, hair, or build are unique enough that I will remember you from them.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 13, 2007

Faceblind Stuff: Items for Prosopagnosics :

Faceblind Stuff: Items for Prosopagnosics :

"Always forget a face? Warn new acquaintances with this tee!"

Yeah! A t-shirt just for us prosopagnosics. Check out the link to all the different variations available. Very cool stuff. Here is the one I ordered:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New Scientist Short Sharp Science blog: Strange faces

New Scientist Short Sharp Science blog: Strange faces

An entry on prosopagnosia on the New Scientist blog, the blogger himself/herself discovering they have it.

This quote is in reference to taking the Celebrity Faces test:

I tried the test and scored a rokkin’ 62%. The average is 85%, but considering how bad I am at recognising faces, I was pretty proud of myself. The ones I found easiest were the icons like Ghandi and Monroe. I had no idea who it was when presented with Jennifer Aniston or the Hoff. Perhaps mild prosopagnosics could provide a handy service by giving stars and politicians a celebrity rating – “You’re not coming in unless the prosopagnosic recognises you…”

I love this idea - prosopagnosics as the gaugers of fame.

Useless Facts

Useless Facts - "Prosopagnosia refers to the inability to identify people by their faces. In severe cased (sic) prosopagnosia a person may not be able to identify themselves in a mirror."

I found this web site and quote while searching for information on prosopagnosia.

Ironic how one person's Useless Fact could be another person's life story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Faceless Gym Member

At the gym last night, I headed for my favorite piece of cardio equipment, the Cybex Arc Trainer. There are only two of the model I like, and one was empty. As I got closer to it, I realized there was a sign on it that said "temporarily out of service", so it wasn't available after all. The women working out on the one right next to the broken one offered hers to me as soon as she finished, which would be in 7 minutes. I thankfully accepted and moved over a few feet to the next cardio machine and began to stretch.

I faced away from her so she would not feel like I was anxiously looking over her shoulder, and took out a magazine to page through as I waited. A few minutes later, a woman walked up, stood right in front of me and smiled politely, like she wanted to get on the machine I was using as a stretching post. I asked if she wanted to use it, and with a puzzled look on her face she said "No, I finished with the Arc Trainer, you can use it now."

These are the times when I feel stupid, or more correctly, feel I appear stupid. If the woman knew about my prosopagnosia, she would have immediately understood why I didn't recognize her but, of course, I would never try to explain it during such a brief encounter. And the truth is, it never occurred to me that I wouldn't recognize her.

Even after all these years (I've been faceblind since high school) it still surprises me how bad I am at recognizing faces. Its almost like I wake up every day expecting to be able to recognize people facially just like everyone else. Apparently I'm blindly optimistic.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Wired Magazine Cover Personality

Wired Magazine: "Special Feature: Get Naked and Rule the World

Get Naked and ...

Smart companies are sharing secrets with rivals, blogging about products in their pipeline, even admitting to their failures. The name of this new game is RADICAL TRANSPARENCY, and it's sweeping boardrooms across the nation. Even those Office drones at Dunder Mifflin get it. So strip down and learn how to have it all by baring it all."

I have seen this magazine cover on newsstands, and I watch "The Office" religiously, and yet, I had no idea this cover personality was the woman who plays Pam, the receptionist on The Office until Andrea mentioned it in the comments section of a previous post.

When I went to the WIRED website to grab an image of the current cover, I found the two shots of the same pose, one where Jenna Fischer is clothed, and one (even LESS recognizable, since I use clothing to help identify people) with her sans clothing behind the same generously sized sign. Totally different facial expression on her than you see on The Office + out of context = non-recognition.

Face Blind Humor

Written by a fellow prosopagnosic:

I might not know you when we meet,
I might not know you on the street,
Not in a store,
Not at my door,
I might not know you here or there,
I might not know you anywhere.

--by Deb "Seuss"

And that about sums it up!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Culture Is Key To Interpreting Facial Emotions

"Culture Is Key To Interpreting Facial Emotions"

Science Daily — Research has uncovered that
culture is a determining factor when interpreting
facial emotions. The study reveals that in
cultures where emotional control is the standard,
such as Japan, focus is placed on the eyes to
interpret emotions. Whereas in cultures where
emotion is openly expressed, such as the United
States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret

Across two studies, using computerized icons and
human images, the researchers compared how
Japanese and American cultures interpreted
images, which conveyed a range of emotions.

'These findings go against the popular theory
that the facial expressions of basic emotions can
be universally recognized,' said University of
Alberta researcher Dr. Takahiko Masuda. 'A
person's culture plays a very strong role in
determining how they will perceive emotions and
needs to be considered when interpreting facial

These cultural differences are even noticeable in
computer emoticons, which are used to convey a
writer's emotions over email and text messaging.
Consistent with the research findings, the
Japanese emoticons for happiness and sadness vary
in terms of how the eyes are depicted, while
American emoticons vary with the direction of the
mouth. In the United States the emoticons : ) and
: - ) denote a happy face, whereas the emoticons
:( or : - ( denote a sad face. However, Japanese
tend to use the symbol (^_^) to indicate a happy
face, and (;_;) to indicate a sad face.

When participants were asked to rate the
perceived levels of happiness or sadness
expressed through the different computer
emoticons, the researchers found that the
Japanese still looked to the eyes of the
emoticons to determine its emotion.

"We think it is quite interesting and appropriate
that a culture that tends to masks its emotions,
such as Japan, would focus on a person's eyes
when determining emotion, as eyes tend to be
quite subtle," said Masuda. "In the United
States, where overt emotion is quite common, it
makes sense to focus on the mouth, which is the
most expressive feature on a person's face."

These findings are published in the current issue
of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
and are a result from a collaborative study
between Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University),
William Maddux (INSEAD) and Takahiko Masuda
(University of Alberta). The results also suggest
the interesting possibility that the Japanese may
be better than Americans at detecting "false
smiles". If the position of the eyes is the key
to whether someone's smile is false or true,
Japanese may be particularly good at detecting
whether someone is lying or being "fake".
However, these questions can only be answered
with future research.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news
release issued by University of Alberta.
Copyright © 1995-2007 ScienceDaily LLC — All
rights reserved —

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

To Test or Not to Test?

One of the decisions you may need to make as a Prosopagnosic (PA) is whether to get tested or not. Its something I decided to do awhile back, while visiting London (see previous posts). I also arranged to meet Matt, another PA from my FaceBlind group list, while I was there in London. We talked a lot about whether it was beneficial to get tested.

Once you do get tested there is the burning desire to make sense of whatever you've just learned about yourself, and it is often easiest to do this by comparing notes with someone else who has taken the tests, or at least, understands the condition. All these new thoughts come tumbling out of your mind, as you try to reconcile and reorder your own image.

I met Matt (see photo) just after I got tested, and wished he had already been, so I could talk to him about specifics of the different tests. There is an implied "code of silence" about the PA tests, so as not to bias the results of future test takers. Matt took the tests a week or so after I did, and had a similar reaction to the results.

What follows in a short set of text messages between Matt and I about his initial reaction to getting tested. I thought it was something other PA's might appreciate. Thanks to Matt for his permission to share these thoughts:

Matt: "I am possibly one of the worst people Dr. Brad has ever met. I found that exhausting. And funny - I laughed through most of it, esp putting the faces in order:)"

Me: "Yes! That was the tough one. Congrats, you're mad;)"

Matt: "Hooray for madness, then. I'm in a pub having a soothing beer on my own, but I'm bursting to tell people that my stupidity has a name now. Perhaps I won't tho."

Me: "Wish I was there to have a pint with you. Tell them all! Cheers!"

Matt: "You're right tho - the people who need to know are the strangers who wouldn't understand. Those I feel I can tell are the friends I can ID anyway. Eeek."

So in the end, you have an official diagnosis, and it is somewhat of a relief, but then who do you tell?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Recognizing Hands and Faces

Dealing With Face Blindness -

I found this news story from last year - an interview with a woman about living with Prosopagnosia. There was a pertinent quote by the woman, Kathy, who was the subject of the story:

"Kathy says it's not that her vision is blurry, but instead faces are no more unique to her than hands are to us."

Now that I have started telling a few people about my Prosopagnosia, I am always looking for a way to explain it to people, and this is one of the better ones I have come across. We have all looked at people's hands, seen them, and then forgotten what they looked like once we walked away. Most people would be hard pressed to recognize someone else by hands alone.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Faceblind View: Pan's Labyrinth review

The Faceblind View: Pan's Labyrinth review

From Andrea's movie reviews for Prosopagnosics blog. Will you be able to tell the characters apart?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Prosopagnosia Key Words and Abbreviations

This list is really helpful if you start reading more about Prosopagnosia. PA's tend to use a lot of abbreviations:) It is from (a few minor edits have been made).

List of words related to face-blindness.

AC - Autistics and cousins (sometimes seen, but seldom, on the face blind lists) (Bill)

AS - Abbreviation for "Asperger's syndrome". (Bill)

ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The acronym ASD is used on many lists that discuss
Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Aspergers Syndrome, Tourettes Syndrome, and (sometimes) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Julianne Douglass`)

Aspergers syndrome - A condition where a person has a collection of neurological deficits, considered by some to be a less severe case of autism. Quite a few Aspergers are face blind, though not all face blind people have Aspergers. (Bill)

Autistic Spectrum - An umbrella term used to cover all of the conditions (autism, Asperger, Tourette, etc.) which are considered to be related with each other based upon their underlying criteria and severity with which they seem to affect the people who have have the condition. (Glenn)

CAPD - Abbreviation for "central auditory processing disorder". (Bill)

Central auditory processing disorder - a sound processing deficit in which sounds are scrambled in the brain. Quite a few face blind people have CAPD, though CAPD is quite common and most people with it are not face blind. (Bill)

Essences - a term covering demeanor, body language, and emotions, when these things are used as a face blind person's primary way of telling people apart. (Bill)

FB - face-blind (Cecilia)

fb-folks - The private mailing-list that is strictly for people with PA. More info can be found at

fb-public - The public message board about PA found at (Cecilia)

FFA - Fusiform face area - the part of the brain some researchers believe recognizes faces (Bill)

fMRI - Abbreviation for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a technique that shows what part of the brain is being used at a given instant (Bill)

Gorbachev effect - the situation that face blind people can all recognize someone with a striking physical difference. These are usually ugly differences because people strikingly beautiful tend to look quite average (origin: the statement that "all face blind people can recognize Gorbachev") (Bill)

Key traits - (or just "traits") - characteristics of others that a face blind person concentrates on in building his filing system for telling people apart (Bill)

NT - short for NeuroTypical, i.e., any person who has a "normal functioning" brain. Despite how this sounds, it is not considered a derogatory comment. John Smith would be a typical NT. (Glenn and Cecilia)

PA - prosopagnosia (Cecilia)

Place blind - common name for "topographic (or topographical) agnosia" (Bill)

Topographic agnosia - the inability to visualize and process places. This causes one to have difficulty with getting lost. Quite a few face blind people have topographic agnosia, though not all persons with either condition have the other. (Bill)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Good Map Feature

Not only does downtown Houston, have street maps posted around the city core on lamp posts, it has also done a great job making the maps easily readable for Topographical (or navigational) Agnosics.

Each map is oriented to the specific spot where it is posted, so that UP on the map is always STRAIGHT AHEAD. If only all maps where posted like this.
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

BBC NEWS | Technology | Emotion robots learn from people

BBC NEWS | Technology | Emotion robots learn from people

Someday, robots will be able to recognize faces better than I can, which I guess, wouldn't be hard. This article is about teaching robots to recognize emotion in the face of humans. The ability to do this varies among Prosopagnosics. Some are good at recognizing emotions, while others are not.

According to the results I just received from my battery of tests taken at the Cognitive Neuroscience Dept. at the College of London, while I scored low on the ability to recognize faces, I still scored well on the ability to read emotions of faces before me. It is amazing how specialized some of our perceptive abilities are.

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

I had the hardest time finding the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, part of the College of London, where I went to be tested. I have never been able to find my way around indoors or out, and get lost trying to find my way back from bathrooms in restaurants. I found out from Dr. Duchaine that this problem is often seen in Prosopagnosics. It's called Topographical Agnosia. so that's my problem! Or one of them at least.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cognitive Bias, Patterns & Pseudoscience « Andrea’s Buzzing About:

Cognitive Bias, Patterns & Pseudoscience « Andrea’s Buzzing About:

This essay relates directly to the previous post, and explains the phenomena called pareidolia.

Facial Recognition - Brain - Faces, Faces Everywhere - New York Times

Facial Recognition - Brain - Faces, Faces Everywhere - New York Times

While we Prosopagnosics don't always see the faces we are looking at, some people see faces in everyday objects.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Meeting Matt in London

Matt from my online Faceblind group, as I posed him in bad light so I could get him with the London Eye in the background. Tourists.

We agree to meet while I was in London learning about and getting tested for Prosopagnosia (PA). We both thought it would be interesting to meet someone with a similar lack of ability for recognizing one another. He conveniently posted himself directly beneath Big Ben, and waved to me as I approached after spotting my unnaturally red hair. I was relieved after that hard part was over, and thankful that he had made it so easy. I always have trepidation when going to meet people.

Matt again, finishing his slides on the Carsten Holler Exhibit at Tate Modern in London.

It was interesting to hear his anecdotes, and quite refreshing to speak to someone who knows what it is like to be so confused on a regular basis.

Showing off his advanced wheelie style. It takes no facial recognition ability to enjoy a good slide.

Matt had previously met someone else from the same online group who actually lives just outside London and was featured in an article in the Times Educational Supplement which I will link to in a subsequent post.

This was my first meeting with another PA, and based on my meeting with Matt, I would highly recommend it.

One thing we ended up doing is comparing anecdotes, which always happens because you just want to be able to tell people the weird situations you live through, and have them understand. We discussed coping skills, which can be valuable. I also had lots of questions about coming out to people about PA and his experience with it. He has come out to more people than I have, even though he has known about his PA for a much shorter time, partly because it is better that way in his work environment, partly because he is more brave than me.

Matt has been in touch with Dr. Duchaine, and intends to be tested quite soon. I found myself desperately wishing, even as I was taking the tests before I met with him, that he had already taken the tests so I could compare the experience with him. It is just not the same talking to a Neurotypical (NT) person about your reaction to the tests. I guess that is a good reason for us to keep in touch.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Face blindness not just skin deep -

Face blindness not just skin deep -

This week CNN aired a story on the person who started our online PA group. This is a link to a related article that contains a small video of him being interviewed.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Testing Day 1

Finished the first day of testing with Dr. Duchaine. It was intense as I thought it would be, requiring serious concentration for a couple hours. The team at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, was amiable and low-key, which helped reduce the pressure (I'm very competitive) of testing. It is great to talk to people with such a depth of knowledge on this obscure subject.

It solidified some ideas I previously had about my own face perception ability, and connected the dots in other areas. I won' t go into detail about the tests or how I did on certain sections. My results were as I would have assumed in some areas, and surprising in others. I thought I did MUCH worse on one section than my scores showed, indicating that I may not have good grasp of my own ability.

At this pointI highly recommend getting tested. It really helped coalesce, in my mind, a definition of my specific case of Prosopagnosia. This will eventually help me tell my story to others.

Tomorrow, Day 2 of testing.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Prosopagnosia Links
General Reference site.
General Reference site.
Face blind book written by Bill Choisser, is a prosopagnosic from birth.
This site has a brilliant metaphor for face blindness which uses stones instead of faces. Many prosopagnosics really relate to this article.