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From the Tartan Online, April 21, 2008

Cruising a familiar neighborhood, you probably expect greetings from the people you encounter on a regular basis – or you might be upset if someone you know passes you by. Still, before gaping at an offender’s rudeness, make yourself familiar with a severe recognition disorder that could be to blame.

Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is a medical condition that prevents otherwise normal people from recognizing even commonly seen faces. While recent studies have suggested that the condition can be congenital – developed during the fetal stages of a person’s life – face blindness is usually a result of severe brain damage.

The region of the brain that houses the root of face blindness has yet to be discovered. However, scientists assert with some certainty that the target region is the cognition area, which helps humans learn about, remember, and recognize objects and people.

Major cases of face blindness may involve damage to the occipital and temporal lobes, which are responsible for visual perception and helping the brain acknowledge sounds, respectively.

Entire article here.


Cartoon by Eric Shansby 

From the Washington Post, Sunday, March 16, 2008

This is what it is like to be at the movies with me.

Me: Is that the same guy who was in the last scene, with the girl?

Wife: Yes. Shh.

Me: But he had a beard in the last scene.

Wife: No, he didn’t. Shhh.

Me: Are you sure?

Wife: Shhhhh.

Me: (Sulk.)

Wife: Listen, you idiot. It’s Tom Cruise. The same Tom Cruise who was in the previous scene. It’s the same one who will be in the next scene. It’s the same one who had Renee Zellweger at hello in the last movie when you forgot who Tom Cruise was, and, yes, by the way, that was Renee Zellweger, not Kirsten Dunst, who looks nothing like Renee Zellweger and would not be confused for Renee Zellweger by anyone but you, okay?

Stranger in next seat: Shhh.

I have trouble recognizing and remembering faces. It is a mild form of a disorder called prosopagnosia, which in its most extreme form can cause you to look in a mirror and not recognize the person looking back at you.

My face-recognition dysfunction is pretty minor, but it is severely tested when watching a movie, a circumstance where you are suddenly presented with many unfamiliar people interacting in complicated ways, and you must learn to quickly tell them apart. I’m okay if a character has some dramatic distinguishing characteristic, or speaks in a distinctive way — I was just fine with the Wicked Witch of the West — but if the characters seem to be random assemblages of run-of-the-mill noses and eyes, lips and ears, I am in trouble.

Entire article here.

Zoe Hunn (far right), a British fashion model, has trouble recognizing the faces
of even her closest friends. (photo by John Midgley) 

From Wired, Issue 14.11, November 2006 

BILL CHOISSER WAS 48 when he first recognized himself. He was standing in his bathroom, looking in the mirror when it happened. A strand of hair fell down – he had been growing it out for the first time. The strand draped toward a nose. He understood that it was a nose, but then it hit him forcefully that it was his nose. He looked a little higher, stared into his own eyes, and saw…himself.

For most of his childhood, Choisser thought he was normal. He just assumed that nobody saw faces. But slowly, it dawned on him that he was different. Other people recognized their mothers on the street. He did not. During the 1970s, as a small-town lawyer in the Illinois Ozarks, he struggled to convince clients that he was competent even though he couldn’t find them in court. He never greeted the judges when he passed them on the street – everyone looked similarly blank to him – and he developed a reputation for arrogance. His father, also a lawyer, told him to pay more attention. His mother grew distant from him. He felt like he lived in a ghost world. Not being able to see his own face left him feeling hollow.

One day in 1979, he quit, left town, and set out to find a better way of being in the world. At 32, he headed west and landed a job as a number cruncher at a construction firm in San Francisco. The job isolated him – he spent his days staring at formulas – but that was a good thing: He didn’t have to talk to people much. With 1,500 miles between him and southern Illinois, he felt a measure of freedom. He started to wear colorful bandannas, and he let his hair grow. When it got long enough, he found that it helped him see himself. Before that, he’d had to deduce his presence: I’m the only one in the room, so that must be me in the mirror. Now that he had long hair and a wild-looking scarf on his head, he could recognize his image. He felt the beginnings of an identity.

Entire article here.


From the Taranaki Daily News, March 19, 2008

A New Plymouth woman is walking through town when an old friend greets her.

She answers, but keeps walking.

The mate watches her perplexed, hurt growing in her chest.

Up the road, a more persistent person stops the woman in her tracks for a chat.

The conversation is pleasant but not meaningful and the man is affronted the woman doesn’t ask how he fared in a sports event that weekend.

After all, they’d had a major discussion about it just last week, but he’s not the type to brag about success.

He walks on, feeling miffed.

The truth is the woman has no idea who these people are not a clue.

That’s because she suffers from face blindness, a neurological disorder called prosopagnosia.

The woman is embarrassed about her affliction, so prefers not to be named.

To help tell her story, we’ll call her Julie. 

Entire article here.

Here I am sitting at my computer; it’s night, and my reflection is there in the bedroom window. My dark hair disappears into the inky night, leaving behind a face composed of man-in-the-moon highlights and shadows from the desk lamp. The actual face is a slightly blurry composite because the glass needs cleaning.

I have this sinking realization that aside from the familiar shirt, the face could really belong to any number of people. I’d never realized before that I don’t actually recognize my own face – I only recognize that that I’m looking in a mirror at myself, which isn’t really the same thing.

I’m usually squinting at myself nearsightedly in the morning when I comb my hair, so the individual features present the same: a familiar nasal bridge, or an eye with a scar by it. Once in a while I’ll catch sight of a side profile reflection in some random mirror at a store, and be surprised to see someone wearing clothes like mine…it’s downright weird!

Photos of me never look like the individual features I see in the mirror; there’s a whole person there that other people say looks like me. You know, the way that people say your recorded voice sounds like you. I just take their word for it. After all, I remember being in the circumstances from the photo.

Being faceblind is sometimes unsettling.

Entire article here.


From wykc news, February 18, 2008

Some people never forget a face. But others can never remember one. Even faces they’ve known since birth. The condition is called prosopagnosia, or face blindness. For Chaz Klawuhn every face he sees is the face of a stranger, including his friends, neighbors, even his wife, Nancy. Klawuhn always knew something was wrong, but didn’t know why he didn’t immediately recognize friends when they greeted him. But it wasn’t until his 30’s, that his stepmother came across a website dedicated to prosopagnosia. “I went to it, and it was me, all over”, Chaz explains.”Most people with prosopagnosia can’t recognize their spouse or children. Sometimes they can’t recognize themselves”, explains Dr. Richard Naugle, a neuropsychologist with the Cleveland Clinic.

The condition occurs one of two ways: as a result of a brain injury, or in Chaz’s case, it’s inherited.

“Just put a blank spot over someone’s face and that’s what I remember. I remember your hair type, your body type, your height, your color of your hair. Things like that, but I cannot remember your face,” Chaz says.

Like many people with face blindness, Chaz has tried to compensate for his condition, choosing a profession that had him on the road and not in an office. And he relies on his wife Nancy to help at larger gatherings, or church. “I’ll tell him, ‘there is so and so’ or ‘here comes so and so,'” Nancy Klawuhn explains.

Chaz decided to speak out about his face blindness, because of the misconceptions he lived with during his younger years. “I was told when I was young that I was kind of standoffish. Because I didn’t say hi to people when I walked past them. And it’s not because I didn’t want to say hi. I didn’t know who they were,” Chaz says.

Today friends and neighbors know the routine. They offer up their names when greeting Chaz, in the store or on the street. And when it comes to greeting his own wife there’s never been a problem. “I told her when I married her 11 years ago, up front and simple. ‘When I come home from work at the end of the day, if there is a redhead in my home, I’m going to kiss her. Because that’s my wife.’ And to this day, she doesn’t have any red-headed friends,” Chaz says.

There is no cure, or treatment for face blindness. Chaz and others have developed coping mechanisms that help them. Some learn to identify people based on hairstyle, voice, the way they walk, or body shape. They may avoid parties or large gatherings. Or some prosopagnosics may hide their disorder by greeting everyone effusively. Either way, they become experts at hiding their condition.

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