What does it feel like to be faceblind?

The person that sent you to this link has difficulty remembering faces.

Difficulty remembering faces is much different than having difficulty remembering names, which everyone has to some extent. People with prosopagnosia have difficulty processing facial images. People with prosopamnesia have difficulty storing facial images. Some people even have difficulty mentally recalling and/or storing any kind of visual images at all. All of these conditions can cause what is sometimes known as "faceblindness". Some people who are faceblind have difficulty recognizing people who are in unfamiliar locations or clothes, and others are unable to recognize even close family and friends.

A faceblind person can talk to you for an hour, thoroughly enjoy the conversation and remember everything about it, and then not recognize you ten minutes later when they run into you around the other side of the building.

People who suffer from faceblindness often remember other people by secondary characteristics such as their hair, their clothing, or what location they expect them to be in. This means that faceblind people can have difficulty identifying a person who is in an unexpected location or have changed their hairstyle or clothes. Consider the people in the image below (created by a faceblindness research group at the University of Minnesota). Can you tell what is odd about these people?

Click this text for the answer:

Please note: The two quizzes below are made to help non-faceblind people understand what it feels like to be faceblind.
They are not tests for faceblindness!

Quiz 1: What does it feel like to not be able to identify a face?

Perhaps the best way to help a non-faceblind person understand what a faceblind person experiences is through an example where even a non-faceblind person might have identification difficulties. The stress and confusion of being faceblind feels a little bit like what a non-faceblind person might feel in the following situation:

Click this text to see the three women you are meeting.

Quiz 2: What does it feel like to not be able to remember a face?

Again, perhaps the best answer is to show you an example where even a non-faceblind person would have recognition difficulties. The anxiety and frustration of being faceblind feels a little bit like what a non-faceblind person might feel in the following situation:

Click this text to see the people who are at the party.

It's hard not to be a little insulted when someone you know doesn't recognize you.

But please keep in mind that your faceblind friends do know and remember you, and they do care about you; they just might have trouble processing visual information about you, especially if they see you out of context. You can help fix the problem by simply saying who you are.

If you are interested and want to learn more, check out:

Face-blindness and stones

Prosopagnosia: Portraitist Chuck Close

Helping the faceblind see - University of Minnesota

60 Minutes special on Face Blindness

Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London

Facebook group for prosopagnosia

Jane Goodall suffered from faceblindness; here is a quote on the subject from her autobiography:

In the course of my travels, one thing detracts from my enjoyment of meeting people. I suffer from an embarrassing, curiously humbling neurological condition called prosopagnosia, which, translated, means I have problems in face recognition. I used to think it was due to some mental laziness, and I tried desperately to memorize the faces of people I met so that, if I saw them the next day, I would recognize them. I had no trouble with those who had obvious physical characteristics -- unusual bone structure, beaky nose, extreme beauty or the opposite. But with other faces I failed, miserably. Sometimes I knew that people were upset when I did not immediately recognize them -- certainly I was. And because I was embarrassed, I kept it to myself.

Quite by chance, when talking to a friend recently, I found that he suffered from the same problem. I could not believe it. Then I discovered my own sister, Judy, knew similar embarrassment. Perhaps others did, also. I wrote to the well-known neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. Had he ever heard of such an unusual condition? Not only had he heard of it -- he suffered from it himself! And his situation was far more extreme than mine. He sent me a paper, titled "Developmental memory impairment: faces and patterns," by Christine Temple.

Even now that I know I need not feel guilty, it is still difficult to know how to cope -- I can hardly go 'round telling everyone I meet that I probably won't know them from Adam the next time I see them! Or maybe I should? It is humiliating, because most people simply think I'm making an elaborate excuse for my failure to recognize them and that, obviously, I don't really care about them at all -- so they are hurt. I have to cope as best I can -- usually by pretending to recognize everyone! And while that can have its awkward moments too, it's not nearly as bad as the other way around.

Goodall, Jane & Berman, Phillip L; "Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey", Warner Books, pp. xiii-xiv (1999).

Answer to quiz 1: The first upside-down woman was Ann Coulter, the fourth in the series of five women. The second upside-down woman was Jennifer Aniston, the second in the series of five. The third upside-down woman was a woman whose name I don't know, but she is the first in the series of five. (The last in the series of five is Drew Barrymore, and the middle in the series of five is BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER!)

Answer to quiz 2: Jake Gyllenhaal was not at the party, but a number of people at the party look a lot like him.

REMEMBER, these quizzes do NOT test for faceblindness! They are to help non-faceblind people understand what it might be like to fail to identify or remember a face.

Thank you to Phil, Beverly, Michelle, Owen, Kye, Valerie, Julie, Natasha, Charles, Joy, and Michelle.