Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My weird brain,,, Prosopagnosia

I've known for awhile that my brain works differently than other peoples', especially when it comes to recognizing things. Well, a month ago I put a name to a condition. I have a moderate case of what is called prosopagnosia, also called "face blindness."

Here's a definition of it: "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 appears to be restricted to facial identity.... One of the telltale signs of prosopagnosia is great reliance on non-facial information such as hair, gait, clothing, voice, and other information."

That's me. I recognize people my their hair and how they walk, more than their faces. Here are some examples:

* I have a good friend who got her haircut. I walked into a room, and saw her from the side, and didn't know who she was. Then she started walking, and I immediately recognized her.

* I had met with a student five or six times during a semester, and then she changed her hair to blonde. She sat down at my office hours, and I introduced myself to her since I thought I had met her before.

* I can scan a classroom of up to about 50 people and know instantly who changed their hair since the last class session.

It's not just faces, but also voices. I just don't recognize voices on the phone, and instead I usually guess who it is by the words they use or when they call. This actually was a bit of a problem before caller id because I would offend friends and family members who called by not knowing who they were.

I'm still thinking through how this affects my work as a sociologist. A clue: I don't remember any details about other peoples' or my own research, but I remember patterns of logic or data analysis. This is probably why I tend toward interdisciplinary work, it comes naturally to take how work is done in one field and import it into another.


Mike Crowl said...

This is intriguing, Bradley. I don't have problems recognising faces, although if they're out of context I can sometimes forget where I know them from. And I recognise people by their gait as well. (Passed someone walking along the road yesterday and immediately recognised him from behind - this was in a place nowhere near where I live, by the way.)
However, what you're discussing must be quite common: when I removed my beard a number of years ago, people I knew well would pass me by in the street without any recognition. Others would know me and not even realise I'd remove the beard.
A couple of days ago, I passed (on separate occasions) two people I knew. I had a hat and sunglasses on: one called me by name from across the street; the other ignored me until I called to him.
Obviously we're not all made in the same way!

Brad said...

There was a guy in my extended circle of friends a couple years ago. I would see him every week or so, and he totally gave me the cold shoulder every time. Even when I would try to strike up a conversation with him he would stare at me blankly like I was some weirdo. I always thought he just really didn't like me for some reason. I found out a couple years after that he has prosopagnosia too. Then it all made sense...

K T Cat said...

Darn! And we were just about to ask you to be a judge at our next beauty contest!

Brad Wright said...

You're right, Mike, in the many ways we are different. It's kind of fun to have a name to put on the differences.

Brad, a story about prosopagnosia in the New Yorker a month ago or so had the same type of story. Someone whose friends had to accept him acting cold some times. Interesting.

Sorry I couldn't help, KT.