I have Prosopagnosia - I can't recognize faces.
Prosopagnosia - It's hard to recognize faces.
Prosopagnosia means the inability to recognize faces. It is sometimes called face blindness. I've had it all my life, but I didn't realize I had it until I was in my 20s. Here's my story about what it's like to have Prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia is actually a common dysfunction, effecting about 2% of the population. It appears to have a genetic basis, as people with it often also have family members with the disorder too.
Do you have trouble recognizing faces?
Scientists Discover Nerve Clusters that Affect Face Perception - 10/24/2012 Update - This may lead to treatment one day!
- Precisely targeted electrical brain stimulation alters perception of faces, scientists find
In a painless clinical procedure performed on a patient with electrodes temporarily implanted in his brain, Stanford University doctors pinpointed two nerve clusters that are critical for face perception. The findings could have practical value in tr
- Brain Zapping Study Sheds Light on Facial Blindness
Two tiny brain areas are key for seeing and recognizing faces, according to a new study that sheds light on a rare neurological disorder known as facial blindness.
Prosopagnosia Difficulties in Elementary School
No one noticed I had trouble with recognizing faces
I was often described as quiet and shy in school, but my difficulty with recognizing faces was never noticed by a teacher or anyone else. I had other difficulties and strengths that were noticed: a severe speech and language delay and a high IQ ("gifted").
One particular task proved to be quite difficult for me. Sometimes teachers would have the students hand back graded papers. This was a task I had a very hard time doing and I tried to avoid it.
I had an especially difficult time telling apart the boys because many of them had similar haircuts. As a kid, haircuts were something I paid a lot of attention to.
How did I hide my problem in school? Well, with handing back papers, I would simply put the paper to the bottom of the stack if I didn't know who the kid was. Fortunately, the teacher often had several students hand back the papers at the same time, so I would wait until there was a stack of papers already on each kids' desk. Then I would surreptitiously look at the names on the papers and then match up the hand written names. Sometimes this took me a long time, and often the teacher would decide to finish the task. If the teacher noticed my difficulty, she never said anything to me.
I now wonder if my problem with recognizing faces contributed to my desire to always sit up front next to the teacher and becoming the teacher's pet. Of course I could always recognize the teacher. I also didn't make many friends, and my Mother felt that my social skills were delayed, and it is very possible that the Prosopagnosia was part of the reason.
"I have a really hard time remembering people."
Early awareness of something being different
My earliest awareness that something was different with my brain was a conversation I had with my Dad about remembering people's names.
I told him that I had a hard time remembering people, and he assumed that I meant remembering names.
I listened to his name remembering tips, and thought they were good ones, but of course it didn't solve my problem.
I didn't realize then that my real problem was remembering faces, not names.
My College Years - Trouble Working in Retail
I worked at a Deli for just a couple days....
In college, I still didn't know that I had trouble recognizing faces, and so I didn't take that into consideration when applying for work. I worked at a Deli for a couple of days.
During the early morning rush, there were several customers ordering food at the same time, and I prepared a bagel for one customer and then didn't know which customer ordered it. The customer was angry and frustrated with my apparent stupidity.
I'm sure that contributed to me being fired after only two days. How did I think about this experience? I thought "I forgot to remember who ordered this bagel..." I was aware that I had made an error, but I didn't know that it had to do with face blindness.
Hard to Follow TV Shows and Movies
Especially when the characters all look similar
It's hard to follow the plot of movies if all of the people are dressed very similarly (i.e. uniforms, or stereotypical period dress) and have similar hair cuts, too. It's hard to recognize people if I've only seen them infrequently, because I don't have much information stored on what they look like. It's also hard if I see someone one place, and then I see them in a different place where I'm not expecting to see them. The circumstance in which I see someone is one of the big clues that allow me to figure out who they are.
Inability to Visualize Faces
Close your eyes and remember them....
My Prosopagnosia isn't as severe as some people, because I've never had trouble recognizing family members or people close to me. However, I still have an inability to visualize faces of almost anyone. I can visualize places and objects, but it is hard to recall visual images of faces without looking at photos or people themselves. This applies even to people that I do recognize.
Realizing that I have Prosopagnosia
A Big Realization for Me - Now I have Insight!
I can't remember exactly how I discovered Prosopagnosia or Face Blindness, but about five years ago, I was on the internet, and I came across a website about it. It was an immediate recognition. "That's me."
I cried... and my husband and I talked about it. He is super supportive and now when I ask questions like "Who is that" in a movie, I don't feel embarrassed or dumb. And now there's an explanation if I don't recognize someone.
What a world of difference it makes to have a name for the problem, and to know that other people also have it.
There is no cure.... or is there?
Now, supposedly there is no cure for the disorder. However, I've been working on improving my face recognizing abilities. Or heck, improving my abilities to recognize people, whether it's their face or some other aspect! I watch movies and TV for practice. Now with High Definition, using the TV for practice is almost as good as real life, and of course on TV you can expose your mind to many faces easily. Practice, practice, practice!
I used to not know what it meant for someone to have a high cheek bone. Now I look at faces and try to describe them and try to remember them. I've started to recognize similarities between faces. Sometimes I'm wrong, and I think someone is someone else, but I'm learning...
I know it's getting better for me. I still get lost in some movies. But now I can actually sometimes recognize famous actors, even though they appear as different characters in different movies. I have also been practicing recognizing people by the sound of their voice. I think it's a good way to compensate for face recognition problems.
The brain can definitely change over time. It's called neural plasticity. The neurons can make new pathways. I have been trying to help my brain change by taking the nootropic drugs Piracetam and Aniracetam. I think that they do make a difference and hope that someday there will be clinical trials with them or other drugs to see if people can be cured of Prosopagnosia and other brain disorders. If you're interested in experimental brain-enhancing meds, you may want to research nootropics. There is a nootropics community on reddit that has lots of individuals curious about improving their cognition. However, there is no proof and little research but someday, just maybe, we'll have a treatment for prosopagnosia.
I overcame my speech language problems, and if that's possible, why isn't is possible to overcome Prosopagnosia?
The Autism Connection - Many People with Autism Have Difficulty Recognizing Faces
- Autism Impairs Face Recognition
This article says that babies with autism can't recognize faces because they have an abnormal brain, but that therapy that focuses on teaching them to recognize faces corrects this problem in 25% of cases. I'm glad that they're studying this, and it
Prosopagnosia Links You May Find Helpful - The Best of the Web
- Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London - Research
Prosopagnosia, also called face blindness, is an impairment in the recognition of faces. It is often accompanied by other types of recognition impairments (place recognition, car recognition, facial expression of emotion, etc.) though sometimes it ap
- Face Blind by Bill Choisser
This online book about face blindness covers: personal story, physical causes, non-face recognition practices, "How I tell people apart," effect of face blindness on emotions, sexuality, and social groups.
- Test Your Face Recognition Abilities
Tests you can take to see how well you can identify famous faces and match faces.
- I have Prosopagnosia
It's true. I'm pretty sure that I have Prosopagnosia and I've had it a lot longer than 4 hours. I've had it my whole life in fact...
- Prosopagnosia Research - About Prosopagnosia
Information about Prosopagnosia, it's causes and how it can affect a person's every day life
My Test Results - Face Recognition & Emotional Recognition Test
I took the Face Recognition, Emotion Perception, and Personality test (Update: This test is no longer available, but other ones are.) recently, and unfortunately did not do much better than I did a couple of years ago when I took it. I am still not recognizing faces. The face recognition part of the test involves me guessing most of the time..... It is a frustrating test to take if you have prosopagnosia, so be warned!
The test results show that I also have some trouble with recognizing emotions. That surprises me... I don't know how to explain that. I never would have thought I had trouble with that. But on the test, they have you look at just pictures of eyes, and in real life, there are many things to look at to judge one's emotions.
How is it then that practice helps? I do wonder. Maybe I'm getting better at recognizing other things about people and maybe I am improving my memory. So, can you cure prosopagnosia? I guess I have no evidence that it is possible. But if I can learn to recognize people better - whether it's faces or something else - then that's a coping mechanism I can live with.
60 Minutes Episode on Face Blindness - Lesley Stahl on Prosopagnosia - March 18, 2012
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this 60 minutes segment. In this segment, you meet some people who are face blind, who can't recognize their own family members. Also featured is neurologist and author Oliver Sacks and a portrait artist who can't recognize faces. This episode also touches on the opposite of face blindness - people who recognize and remember every face they see. These people are called "super recognizers."
This video may help others who aren't faceblind to understand what the disorder is like.
More Interesting Reading on Squidoo - Squidoo is a great place to read personal stories
- How I've Coped with Aspergers
Kylyssa describes techniques that have helped her difficulties with social interaction.