IMPORTANT: If you're going to remember one thing from this AMA, I hope it's this:

"... the last thing anyone needs is to have uninformed people lecturing them about the need to let go of their trauma, when in fact what they're experiencing is because of a physical scar."


I have prosopagnosia, or "face blindness". My only proof is my Twitter account, in that I've discussed it there, for years.

The condition was made famous by Oliver Sacks' book, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat." More recently, Brad Pitt identified as prosopagnostic in 2022.

Background info here:

Downside: We're much worse than most, at finding faces familiar. "That's Sam!"

Upside: We're much better than most, at comparing two faces. "Those noses are the same!"

To me, it's like magic, how people recognize each other, despite changing hairstyles, clothes, etc. And I imagine it's like magic, to some, how prosos pick out details. (That doesn't make up for the embarrassing recognition errors. One got me fired! Nonetheless, it's sometimes handy.)

Ask me anything.

UPDATE JUNE 28: It's about 9:30 am, and I'm still working through the questions. Thank you so much for your interest! Also thanks to all the other people with proso, or similar cognitive issues, who are answering Qs & sharing their stories.

Comments: 606 • Responses: 71  • Date: 

TriSarahTops47377 karma

If you encounter the same person enough times will you develop recognition of them? Also, how does this impact your ability to find people attractive?

oldkale465 karma

Knowing my wife has it, I, a very tall man, once crouched to normal height when standing in a line before a show. She could not find her own husband when returning from the bathroom.

And she does fancy my appearance from our first encounter through today.

kosandeffect233 karma

My wife also has it and it's led to some amusing situations. One time she almost picked up the wrong kid from school when she went in to get our oldest. Just thought "Those aren't the clothes I sent kiddo to school in he must have had to change into some spare clothes" until our son recognized her and was like "Mom I'm over here." He was also the only white kid in his 6-1-1 class. She was mortified at the time but was laughing her ass off by the time she was relaying the story to me.

Another time while we didn't have a car we both ended up on the bus route home at around the same time. She was about a block behind me for the 4-5 blocks we had to walk from the main downtown area that we connect to the other buses to the stop for the bus route that actually takes us home. She thought that it was me a little but didn't trust herself enough to try to get my attention because what if it was just some random person with the same haircut wearing the same clothes and carrying the same bag I was when I left that morning (Her exact words)? The only reason she recognized me when I finally got to the stop and turned to the side to wait for the bus was she finally saw the distinctive feature she recognizes me by. The "perfect slope of my nose" as she calls it.

noodlesfordaddy75 karma

wait so face blindness is also... race blindness?

smallbrownfrog79 karma

wait so face blindness is also... race blindness?

I think that one must vary by person. I’m also face blind and I’ve never confused a dark skinned person for a light skinned one. My mind seems to take in a generalized impression of body type, hair, and color, followed by an impression of their personality and way of moving.

For example I worked with a quiet young man who was ultra pale and ultra skinny and tall, with very long, very straight hair. Then one day they hired someone new and the new guy was a quiet young man who was pale and ultra skinny and tall, with very long, very straight hair. I had absolutely no idea who was who. I had to wait until they were in the same room and somebody called one of them by name. Then I franticly looked for differences as fast as I could. I was able to tell them apart after that, but there were some people I could only “recognize” by looking at the work schedule to see who was supposed to be there with me!

Kurisuchein13 karma

😳 This just confirms my issue. I have to rely on subtle differences in facial details. I look for freckle patterns and eye colour mostly/first.

Odd_Walrus259417 karma

This is what I meant, in the original post, when I said that we're much better at identifying details.

At most, the avg person might notice, "that person has freckles." We notice the freckle PATTERN, because we need to. Is it just a bit on the nose? Across both cheeks? Etc.

To which (in my experience) people reply, "if you are seeing all that then why can't you recognize them?"

And the only answer I have, right now, is, "processing power." It takes a bleepton of energy to process all the visual cues about a person, IF you can even perceive them (for example, freckles can be covered by makeup). And we have to process all the normal info too. Like traffic and traffic signals, if we're driving. Work-related info, if someone at the office is trying to tell us that info.

If we had infinite processing power, then I think we'd be as good as computers at recognizing faces. We certainly notice a lot more about facial details than most people (in my experience, based on the surprise family & friends show, when I point those out).

But we have to conserve energy somehow. Most people seem to conserve it, by activating the part of the brain that is efficient at processing faces. We can't do that. So we do what we can, and fake the rest.

Does that sound accurate?

moezilla22 karma

Not really. For me personally I try to find a specific detail about a person to try and remember them. If there is a group of guys who are mostly white but there is one black guy it will be easier for me to remember the black guy, but if the group is more mixed with a few white guys and a few black guys I can't just remember "black guy" so instead I'll remember "red shirt" or some other detail, unfortunately if another guy with a red shirt shows up I'm going to confuse him with the original red shirt guy even if thier races are different.

This has caused me many issues in my life, if everyone could start wearing brightly colored unique hats (or unique hairstyles) I'd appreciate it a lot. (Superhero movies are easy for me to watch and remember characters, but cop movies I can rarely follow, for example Tinker Tailor soldier spy, is just a bunch of white guys in suits, every character looks the same so I can't follow the story.)

Odd_Walrus25949 karma

if everyone could start wearing brightly colored unique hats (or unique hairstyles) I'd appreciate it a lot.

How amazing would that be? Find what works for you, and stick to it: what a concept.

Kidding. I get that it's fun to change up clothes and hairstyles. It's also fun to rearrange furniture, sometimes ... but not in a blind person's house.

(Tangential story: I had a friend in high school, who had a partially blind cocker spaniel. Stupidest dog I ever met (though very sweet). It constantly dashed through the house at high speed, and never figured out that people or objects may have moved, since the last time it ran through. All the head collisions could not have helped with the intelligence problem! Totally tangential, I just think it's funny.)

Odd_Walrus2594152 karma

Hilarious. Yep, crouching down would have the same effect on me. How cool is that, that you can become invisible, so easily? :)

Noperdidos43 karma

Follow up question. 9 times out of ten I don’t recognize my wife at a show from her face, but by her clothes, hair, and especially just general “silhouette”.

Do any of these work for you?

Odd_Walrus259466 karma

Yes, I rely on all of those. However those are all static things, i.e., visible in a photo. I find dynamic things much more useful. E.g., gait, and mannerisms like how frequently they blink, how quickly/slowly their smile spreads, etc. (Harrison Ford is really easy because of that iconic slow-spreading smile.)

Curl-the-Curl92 karma

I have it too: I develop a recognition for them if I see them daily. I lose it when I don’t see them for a bit or if they wear a different style of clothing/ hairstyle, then it takes a minute to save this new appearance to my brain.

I first found out that I am faceblind when I only recognised a friend by their voice 2 minutes after seeing them.

I can see faces and attractiveness, I just can’t remember them. I think it has no impact on who I find attractive.

Odd_Walrus259442 karma

Do you find that your most recent "saved" impressions of a people overwrite the previous impressions? Mine definitely do.

Even if I've known someone for years, it is much harder to recognize them after I've seen them looking atypical in some way (such as wearing a wig at Hallowe'en). It really is as if I've overwritten their usual hair colour with the wig colour. So far I haven't found a way to prevent that from happening. Argh!

Thin-Solution-165917 karma

i figured it out when Facebook became a thing. I was scrolling through all these photos of strangers and only could recognize them after i looked who posted.

Odd_Walrus259432 karma

Funny how we find this stuff out.

Lots of people are asking stuff like, "who diagnosed you," and all I can say is, "self-diagnosis becomes self-evident at some point."

For me, that point came when I walked up to a stranger during a street festival, wrapped my arm around his waist, and then noticed my husband staring at us, horrified.

(The stranger was wearing essentially the same outfit as my husband, and was roughly the same height and weight. While making my apologies, I realized the face was totally different -- to the point that even I could tell! I just got overconfident because of the outfit. And bless that stranger and their ?girlfriend? -- they just laughed it off. Probably commented, later, "what was she, high?")

D0ugF0rcett8 karma

We have a game where when I watch movies my family asks me the name of the actors and actresses or other parts they've played

Actor siblings are the worst 😐

Odd_Walrus259412 karma

Oh god, if I'd had a sibling who could pull off various accents, mannerisms, etc., I think I would have become a total hermit. Every ring of the doorbell would have been like a death knell. "Do we have a visitor or is Sean pranking me again?"

Cannot imagine having prosopagnosia and actor siblings.

Odd_Walrus259485 karma

Yes, to a point. I recognize my kids more often than I recognize the neighbours' kids. Though, after my kids get haircuts, that gap narrows quite a lot, 'til I'm used to the new cut. Put a hat on my kid, and I might recognize the neighbour first.

I guess the most accurate answer is, "all else being equal, yes, it becomes easier to recognize people with increasing exposure." But "all else" usually ISN'T equal. There are tons of factors making someone more or less recognizable. I've already named two: haircuts and hats.

A police-style lineup, including my kids and ten kids of similar heights and colouring and haircuts, would be very very tough. I'd have to look for specific details, like the scar in the middle of one kid's forehead. If there was a tight time limit (so, not enough time to scan everyone for the scar & other details) ... nope I'd be lost.

I've answered the Q about attractiveness, in detail, elsewhere in this conversation. Essentially, yes, I do have a strong gut-level reaction to people's looks, which (as far as I can tell) is about as strong as everyone else's. I can rate anybody's attractiveness. Even though I can't recognize them. It makes ZERO sense to me.

fewlaminashyofaspine14 karma

Was this ever scary when your kids were younger? I can imagine worrying about them getting separated in public and struggling so much more to find them.

Odd_Walrus259436 karma

We had some scary times, for sure. One of my kids is autistic, and like many autistic kids, he was a runner. I would have liked to attach a leash to him, but my spouse was adamant that we would never leash our kids. So he'd bolt at every opportunity. We're in a mall and I'm checking the map? Gone. The other kid needs his winter jacket buttoned? Gone.

Our son would just duck around the nearest object (like the adjoining car in a parking lot, say) and haul ass. It got to the point that our doctor offered to help us get a disabled license plate, so we could park near the doors of buildings, & our son wouldn't get run over in the parking lot. (Side note: How frustrating is it, that people think those disabled parking spaces are only for ppl who have trouble walking? Not getting run over is ALSO a legitimate need.)

So I have spent many hours, in the aggregate, describing that kid to security guards or police. And here's how I solved that:

I dressed my kids (aged 2 years apart) identically, every time we headed to a crowded place like a beach or a museum. Hats, shirts, pants/shorts, all identical. Luckily they also looked mostly identical (or so I was told). So every time kid 2 went missing, I used kid 1 as a visual aid. "He looks like this, officer. EXACTLY like this." And they usually looked skeptical, until we found kid 2, and then they said, "wow, you weren't joking."

That was relatively early in the days of cell phones. Our kids are pretty much adults now. Today, we could just take pix with a cell phone, and the guards could probably send those around to each other. Back when they were small, all I could do was dress them identically and point. :-)

I guess that story's more about accommodating autism, than accommodating prosopagnosia. But I think it's a good example of how creative people with disabilities (and their support people) have to be, sometimes.

"Disability is not a brave struggle or courage in the face of adversity. Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live." -- Neil Marcus (see:

Fucking A. Disabled people are the most ingenious people I know.

dlouwe24 karma

I've got moderate prosopamnesia (can recognize faces, but can't remember them), and I tend to be more attracted to very distinctive, often non-facial features - e.g. if someone dyes their hair a bright colour I will perceive their face as more attractive.

fewlaminashyofaspine22 karma

I've got moderate prosopamnesia (can recognize faces, but can't remember them)

By this, do you mean that you recognize faces when you see them, but when apart, can't conjure the image in your mind?

I do fine with recognizing (familiar/frequent enough) faces, but can't picture people from memory almost at all. I've been with my boyfriend for over five years, but if I ever had to guide a sketch artist to draw him, I'd struggle to do better than broad features like hair/eye color, facial hair, distinctive cheek mole.

People in my dreams also don't have faces, presumably because of this, because I just can't remember/imagine them well.

Odd_Walrus259414 karma

Ha, interesting point about working with a sketch artist. Sketch artists must HATE dealing with people who have proso-anything.

Plus, how "sketchy" (ha) would it look, for a prosoamnesic to be put on the stand in court, and asked to describe the person they saw? Or for a prosopagnostic to be asked, "is the person you saw sitting in this courtroom?" I'd be stammering and saying, "uh, yeah, probably?" lol

hameater18 karma

This happened to me - a guy passed a fake $100 to me at my work about thirty years ago. Got to court and had a chat with the prosecution lawyer. He asked me if I had seen the defendant since the day I got the fake bill. I said I saw him in the courtroom. Lawyer got real deflated-looking.

It wasn't him - the guy was in a waiting room somewhere else. They had to inform the defense that the witness (me) misidentified the accused so charges were dropped.

I later remembered doing the photo ID thing, staring at pictures. I got to a specific photo, and one of the detectives checked their watch. My guess was they were going to time me to see how long it took me to recognise 'their guy'. So I said 'That's him,' just to help them. I had no idea until much later how awful that was of me and how badly i could have fucked over some kid's life.

Odd_Walrus25946 karma

Now imagine if you were totally blind. Would the charges have been dropped, because you couldn't visually identify the person? Maybe not.

But people are so certain about literal EYE-witness evidence, that they won't tolerate any uncertainty about what we see. Today, I'd know enough to tell the lawyers how to explain my inability to recognize the accused. Hopefully that would prevent the court from throwing out the charges. But 20 years ago, I didn't know that.

So this is an accessibility issue. Essentially, the courts are depending on us to be experts in our own abilities/disabilities, although that can take many many years. And in the meantime, the courts brand us liars because we don't know.

Rachel11075 karma

Can you visualize things besides faces? If not, you might have aphantasia.

Odd_Walrus25945 karma

I'm almost totally unable to visualize anything more complicated than a Euclidean shape (circle, square, etc.). Thanks for putting a name to that.

Though I can recognize items other than faces, with no problem, so I think aphantasia and prosopagnosia must involve different brain functions. Maybe they're adjoining areas of the brain, or something ...

So many questions.

fewlaminashyofaspine2 karma

Can you visualize things besides faces?

I can, just not super vividly. Kind of like things are out of focus.

Odd_Walrus25942 karma

You beat me, in that respect. As noted elsewhere, I can visualize your basic Euclidean shapes and that's it. Everything else is a blur.

And again, I think that is probably separate from prosopagnosia, in that recognizing objects is no problem, but recognizing faces, is.

bcg8513 karma

I've got a damn-near perfect recall of faces, but someone tells me their name and I swear it doesn't even register. I can actively ask someone I meet what their name is and 10 seconds later it's gone

willun5 karma

I am the same. I even forgot the name of people working for me. You get good at not using names when talking to people and the biggest problem is when someone else expects you to introduce them to someone else.

Doesn't happen with all people but it happens enough to be annoying.

I ended up making a photo database of employees which others found useful but i used it mainly to remind me of people's names.

Odd_Walrus25948 karma

"You get good at not using names" felt very familiar, in the sense that, regardless of the specific impairment, we get very very good at workarounds. To the point that some people insist we don't have the impairments at all.

"You walked straight up to person X and said their name; bullshit you don't recognize faces!" (While what I actually recognized was their hat & jacket combination.)

What is it with some people, that they have such a powerful urge to deny other people's realities?

Sorry, got annoyed for a second there.

Synssins19 karma

I am also prosopagnostic.

I have learned to identify people by hair style/color, specific physical attributes such as body shape/build in some cases, voice, specific clothing/accessories (wife's purse), and in some cases, the way they walk/the sound of their walk when they'd be approaching my office.

For each of these, as examples:

My wife had her hair done and the style ended up changed from what I had come to expect. Logic dictates that the strange woman walking in the front door and saying "Honey, I'm home" is my wife... But with the hair style change, I lost the context that I could use to identify her.

A female body builder at my last IT life (fitness org) had a very distinct shoulder shape that I could recognize no matter what.

In that same job, I learned to recognize people by the sound of their walk. My door was open all the time, and the restrooms were down the hallway my office was in. Eventually, you learn to tell many people apart by the way they walk. One woman always dragged her right heel. Whenever she'd stop in for something, I learned to associate the sound of her steps with her.

Odd_Walrus259412 karma

Great examples of the sorts of workarounds that we develop.

How many other people in your office were alert to the sound of that one woman dragging her foot? (That's a rhetorical question. My guess is, not many.)

It is prob bad form to answer with a link to another answer, but honestly I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the questions and side threads, here, so:

You may find this relatable.\_source=share&utm\_medium=web2x&context=3

RedRangerRedemption11 karma

I have it and I tend to recognize people based on other factors like how they walk or the sound of their voice. I once walked up to a coworker of 14 years and introduced myself to him because he cut his dreadlocks off after 20 years of having them and I didn't recognize him at all. Luckily he knew about my diagnosis and had a good chuckle with me.

Odd_Walrus259415 karma

Life is SO much easier once people know, isn't it? And once we know.

I tell everyone, immediately on being introduced. It's the first thing I say in a job interview: "please be aware that I'll probably treat you like a total stranger, if I see you in the cafeteria later." I found out after-the-fact that I failed one job interview because of exactly that scenario. So now, it's tell-everyone-all-the-time, lol.

naavifallafel244 karma

How many faces am I holding up?

Odd_Walrus2594141 karma

Upvote for you.

Both my kids have (other) disabilities, and we make cracks about them all the time.

Proso is a lot milder than what the kids have, so it would be hard to offend me ... but still people get nervous about it.

So, for anyone who wants advice (hell, if I can't give advice in my own AMA, what's the point?):

Listen carefully, and see if the person, or the people who know them well, make jokes. And if so, you can try making jokes at roughly the same level. They'll tell you if you're out-of-line. And maybe you will be.

But chances are, they'll be relieved, because erring on the side of being flippant is USUALLY (obviously, not always) a lot better than on the side of treating them like they're fragile.

OK, off that particular soapbox. Again: upvote for you.

snailsshouldvote241 karma

Can you recognize people in dreams, by their face or otherwise?

Do you use peoples gait or posture to identify them?

Odd_Walrus2594495 karma

Wow, I never thought about the dream aspect. As far as I remember my dreams, yes, I recognize everybody in them. That's really interesting, will have to think on it. Thanks for the Q!

Loki--Laufeyson81 karma

I have prosopagnosia. I can't recognize people in my dreams. I always tell my parents "I had a dream about cousin or best friend last night" because they have a similar body shape and height.

I also have aphantasia. I know people can have one or the other, but I feel like mine are connected.

Odd_Walrus259432 karma

Am just learning about aphantasia, and like you, I have degrees of both. I really wonder if they are controlled by adjacent (or overlapping) regions of the brain.

Makes me wonder, as well, how much illness or injury contributes to these conditions. I was hospitalized as an infant for scarlet fever -- how delightfully quaint does THAT sound? -- and they were not sure that I would pull through. Who knows, maybe that fried a section of the brain.

Disco_is_Death26 karma

Fellow proso here: I don't dream faces! Or if I do they're pretty much random. I'll dream about my friends and family (or that one mean teacher from middle school), and I'll know it's them, but they'll effectively just be torsos with any face or no face.

I'm actually very good at recognising people I know well, and can pick out friends even after extreme style changes based on gait and stance. But I struggle to recognise my friends when They're drunk because their mannerisms change 😅

Odd_Walrus25946 karma

Ha, I can totally relate to finding people much less recognizable when they're drunk.

Maybe that makes us better sobriety testers? "No, Annie, you aren't OK to drive." *bystanders raise their eyebrows*

iamlereddit162 karma

Does this also impact your ability to recognize animated characters?

Odd_Walrus259474 karma

No. As /u/Curl-the-Curl noted, every cartoon character has really exaggerated features, so it is very easy to tell them apart.

It's harder to distinguish characters who are supposed to be photo-realistic. The first time I really struggled with animated characters was while watching Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (I think that's the name?). Very early 2000s.

Everybody else was talking about how the animation was a huge leap forward, though it was still in the uncanny valley. Meanwhile, I was thinking, "oh, shit, now I am going to have problems with animation, too."

So, let's distinguish cartoons (with exaggerated features) from animation, generally.

InappropriateTA120 karma

What was the incident/issue that got you fired?

Can you recognize your own face in photos?

Does it make it easier or harder to identify someone based on their speech/voice if you can see their face (versus just hear their voice)?

Odd_Walrus2594278 karma

Re: getting fired, I explained it a bit in my last response, a second ago. But will expand.

I was a student midwife, and did a one-hour "introductory appointment" with a new client. Got the medical history, took blood, all that, and also spent lots of time talking about the person's very private experiences with abuse, fear of labour & delivery, really intense stuff. Then said goodbye, wrote a few notes, and went to the waiting room ...

where this person had put on a differently-coloured jacket, tied up their hair into a ponytail, was standing rather than sitting ... basically, had changed almost all the cues I use, to recognize a person. So I thought they were a different client. And I approached them and invited them into the next appointment.

Cue some SERIOUS drama. Not quite screaming, but close. As a student, I couldn't be "fired" from the practice, but I was "fired" by that client, who demanded a new primary caregiver, or they'd never come back.

Bonus answer: while I lost only one client, that time, I have lost at least two job opportunities that I know of, because I didn't recognize the interviewers, either before or after the interview. Let's call all of that, together, um ... employment barriers.

aurora-_31 karma

Why was the client so upset that you misidentified her as the next patient?

hurray4dolphins257 karma

I wasn't there but I would venture that she just went into great detail in a long conversation about her most personal experiences and fears and then the person she just bared her soul to didn't recognize her a couple minutes later. Do you see how she might feel a bit minimized, unimportant, or invisible during a very vulnerable time?

aurora-_73 karma

Duh, I can see that now. Thanks!

“I medically can’t distinguish your face from the lady next to you” should have calmed it down, though.

Odd_Walrus2594196 karma

Absolutely, and I would have told her that, if I had known at the time.

I was in my late 20s at the time of that incident, and realized I had prosopagnosia in my mid-30s. So, 7 or 8 years later.

Can you imagine the relief, after 7 or 8 years of feeling that I'd really insulted that person (along with all of the OTHER people who were angry or sad over the years), to realize that it wasn't my fault?

Took a long time, even to accept that. Guilt is a hard burden to shake.

Odd_Walrus259475 karma

Can you recognize your own face in photos?

Does it make it easier or harder to identify someone based on their speech/voice if you can see their face (versus just hear their voice)?

Re: your other questions:

Q1: Can you recognize your own face in photos?

-- Almost always. I recognize myself about 90% of the time. Mostly 'cause I don't like my face, so I guess I've internalized it more than other people's. Whereas I recognize family members a lot less often. Of course, there's always context attached. I'm not seeing their photos in a store window. So I can use context and guess which kid it is, for example. That makes my apparent recognition rate a lot higher. Let's say, apparent rate = 90%. But if those WERE pix in a store window, then ... perhaps 50%? Less?

Q2: Does it make it easier or harder to identify someone based on their speech/voice if you can see their face (versus just hear their voice)?

-- Face helps a little, in that I can see if they're white or Black or whatever. But what really helps is seeing movement and outlines. The curve of their back when they're standing, for example, or the way they hop a little when they go up stairs. And a face is virtually useless if it includes features I'm not used to seeing on them, e.g. a different hat and a new pair of glasses.

noctalla45 karma

It's interesting what you say about hats and glasses. I wonder if everyone who works at the Daily Planet has prosopagnosia. That might explain a few things.

Odd_Walrus259461 karma

Haha yeah. Maybe one of Clark Kent's powers is that he can induce prosopagnosia in people. A proso-field, as it were.

Oh man can you imagine the havoc someone could wreak with that power?


h8sm8s69 karma

How has it affected dating and romantic relationships for you? Would you always bring it up on the first date?

Odd_Walrus2594349 karma

I got married 20 years ago, and at that time, still didn't understand that I had prosopagnosia. I knew people were often mad at me for not recognizing them on the street. And that some strangers had been weirded out, when I'd assumed they were friends. But I chalked all that up to being stupid, somehow.

So, no, I didn't disclose on dates, because I didn't know. But here's what DID happen on a date:

We had seen each other a couple of times, but I wasn't really used to his voice or clothes, or anything, yet. And again, I didn't know about prosopagnosia. So there weren't many guard rails in place.

I showed up to the guy's house. The plan was for him to cook dinner, and we'd watch a movie. However he'd remembered my comment, at our last meeting, that I didn't really like facial hair, so he'd shaved off his beard. And I rely on outlines (such as a sharp chin vs. a beard) to recognize people. In short: he seemed like a total stranger.

So when he answered the door, I asked, "is Chris here?" And he thought it was a joke. He played along for about 10 minutes. "Nope, he's gone out for a few minutes, make yourself comfortable." When he finally confessed I didn't know whether to laugh or punch him, lol.

This past May was our 20th anniversary. We still tell that story.

Odd_Walrus2594142 karma

This is still true, by the way. If C shaved his beard off, tomorrow, I would find it extra difficult to recognize him while he's quiet and still, at least for a week or two. Much easier to recognize him if he's talking or moving, because then there are lots of additional cues. But sitting still? Facial hair is still CRITICAL info.

Gerik2220 karma

Sounds like he grew the beard again, so I'm curious: Did you start liking facial hair more in the last 20 years, or did he grow it back after that date to make sure you'd recognize him in the future?

On a related note: since you see faces mostly as a collection of different features and not as a unified whole, do you still have any particular facial features that you tend to find more attractive, or is a person's face a complete non-factor for you in determining if you find them physically attractive?

Odd_Walrus259440 karma

He did grow it back. He feels a lot more attractive with facial hair, and I think people are more attractive when they FEEL attractive. So I can live with the facial hair.

However I do sometimes ask him to trim it as short as possible, and he obliges. For me, scruff is hot; anything that filters soup is not.

(Turnabout is fair play: I keep my hair longer than I would like, because it makes him happy. Occasionally I get tired of it, chop it all off, and he looks sad for awhile. Constant give-and-take. In other words, marriage.)

Yes, face is a big factor in my physical attraction to people. Probably second, after overall agility/grace (i.e., dancers are stunningly hot. Tom Holland's lip sync battle to "Umbrella" was NUCLEAR). And no, I have no idea how I can be attracted to faces when I can barely recognize them. Brains are weird.

h8sm8s14 karma

That’s a very cute story. Happy anniversary!

What did it feel like when you were finally diagnosed? What happened that lead to you getting a diagnosis?

Odd_Walrus259418 karma

I'm not formally diagnosed. There probably is a process for that, but honestly, I don't see the point. The evidence is so overwhelming at this point, that it would feel like going to the doctor and asking, "can you please confirm that I do not have a right foot?" Not the best use of the health system.

Lots of things led up to realizing that I had prosopagnosia. Especially the really overt social errors. Like inviting an elderly woman out to lunch with me, because I thought she was my MIL's best friend. That one turned out really well, though -- the woman declined, but later told me ('cuz we attend the same church) that she'd been feeling lonely since her husband died, and it meant the world to her that I wanted us to have lunch. Of course I never told her what really happened.

So, after enough errors like that, where friends and family did everything short of slapping me upside the head, I realized this wasn't your run-of-the-mill "being bad with faces." And then I started reading up on facial recognition, came across some articles on prosopagnosia, and said, holy shit. Everything fell into place.

kosandeffect2 karma

That's cute and hilarious. My wife also has prosopagnosia and she relies on distinctive features to recognize people. Luckily for me that feature is my nose so even though I don't look like me when I shave it doesn't throw her as bad. Though she does say I don't look like me.

Our funny story with it is the time she almost took the wrong kid home from school. He was in a 6-1-1 at the time so there were only a few other kids in the class and he was the only white boy and she still managed to mistake him for another boy in his class. Just thought "Oh kiddo just have had to change into spare clothes" and would have just walked out the door with him had kiddo himself not recognized her and called out asking her what she was doing. She was mortified at the time but laughed her ass off at it by the time she was relaying the story to me.

We'll be married 5 years in July.

Odd_Walrus25941 karma

Amazing that the kid she had (incorrectly) pegged as your son, didn't protest. Like, was he just going to get into the car and be driven to your home? STRANGER DANGER, child!

Congratulations on your upcoming 5th anniversary!

BitchinTwinage62 karma

Serious question, do all ethnic groups look the same as everyone else in their personal ethnic group?

Odd_Walrus2594135 karma

Ha, that's a running joke with my spouse. I am constantly asking about actors in shows or movies, because I do tend to recognize how they move and speak. So I'll say, "hey, is that Denzel Washington?" when it's actually Jamie Foxx. And spouse will joke, "that's racist!"

But yeah, same ethnic group is an issue. I don't process faces AS faces. I process them as collections of features. Imagine a face, cut into squares, and the squares are rearranged. So you know it's a face, maybe even a familiar one, but nothing seems to connect with anything else. So of course you have to focus on each detail, individually. And yeah, certain details are common within ethnicities (say, flatter nose bridges in Chinese vs. English people).

So I confuse Chinese person A with Chinese person B, more than I would confuse them with English person C. Does that answer the Q?

Psychocow35 karma

I have a guy I work with that I'm fairly sure is prosopagnostic, nice enough guy but without the context of seeing him at work he never remembers me. Is there anything you would suggest to help someone out with the condition to clue them onto who they're talking to?

Odd_Walrus259461 karma

I suggest routinely naming yourself, when you greet them. So if their name is Frank, and you're Peter, something like, "Hey Frank, it's Peter. What's up?" And then give them a second to process.

If they have prosopagnosia, they're probably doing some very quick math: does your shirt match your voice match your hair match ... yadda yadda. The more items they can add up, the more confident they'll be. So give them time to add it up. That may be more of a pause than you're used to, but resist the urge to keep talking, 'cause that eats up their mental processing power.

If they DON'T have prosopagnosia, I bet you'll find out pretty quickly. 'cause they'll say, after the second or third time you do this, "why do you always introduce yourself? I know it's you!" And then you know.

In which case, it's a great opportunity to spread some awareness about proso. Just a sentence or two: "oh, I'm trying to get in the habit of introducing myself, 'cause I learned some people need those cues. You know, face blindness." And if they don't care, they won't ask. Funny how many people DO ask, though. People seem very curious about anything involving faces OR blindness!

Fantastic question, thank you.

GabberZZ24 karma

I've often wondered whether I have a mild form of this. People I've been acquainted with for years, shop or bar staff for example, seen out of context are often unrecognisable to me until my wife reminds me where I know them from. Then the recognition floods back.

Odd_Walrus259426 karma

You may very well. Much like autism, and blindness, proso is a spectrum.

Oliver Sacks' book was named after a guy who really COULDN'T tell his wife's face apart from a hat. Totally unable to process faces. Hardly anybody is out at that extreme. And on the other extreme, there are people who just barely notice a bit of difficulty with faces. Most of us are somewhere in the big messy middle.

I'm sure none of that is new to you, but it may be, for others reading along.

Can totally relate to the feeling of the recognition flooding back. If we're lucky, it floods back BEFORE we make asses of ourselves. (I've got some stories from the times it flooded back too late, and I'm sure you do, too.)

Best wishes to you & your wife.

TheYbot33 karma

Have you ever played 9 Persons 9 Hours 9 Doors? One of my favorite games of all time, and one of the characters has prosopagnosia. If you're familiar, do you feel like the game is accurate about what prosopagnosia is like? Character traits of the person who has it in game aside? XD

Odd_Walrus25945 karma

9 Persons 9 Hours 9 Doors

I haven't played it yet, but you've piqued my interest. I'll see if I can rent a Nintendo DS, and either rent the game or buy&sell. Will post my thoughts here, afterward. (That's not gonna be until at least the weekend, though.)

Thanks very much for telling me about it.

amyamyamyamyamy32 karma

Do you watch Korean dramas? There are several dramas where one of the characters have face blindness; e.g., The Beauty Inside, My Holo Love.

If you have watched them, how accurately is face blindness portrayed?

In the dramas, it usually happened as a result of some kind of traumatic event, either an accident or from PTSD. Is this accurate? How did it happen for you? (I hope you don’t mind this question)

Odd_Walrus259431 karma

I'm VERY happy that you asked those questions. This is important to understand.

Yes, I watched My Holo Love. The supposed "science" of the glasses & Holo drove me nuts, but that's another issue.

I really liked the scene in which the female lead has to identify every single guest who arrived at the company party. Especially when she loses access to Holo and has to identify them without help. That felt very, very familiar.

But let's be clear: she does NOT have prosopagnosia. She has a conversion disorder, which used to be called "hysterical blindness"

(Hysteria now being unacceptable language, because it comes from the idea that having a uterus scrambles women's brains. And if anyone finds that interesting, I also recommend looking up the origin of the word "vagina." Wacky fun.)

Anyway. There are all sorts of flavours of conversion disorder, including one that involves not recognizing people. Usually thought to stem from childhood trauma, as in the female lead's case. The symptoms often clear up with appropriate treatment, which helps to resolve the trauma.

Prosopagnosia, on the other hand, has nothing to do with psychological trauma, although of course the person may ALSO have that.

"Prosopagnosia is ... thought to be the result of congenital influence, damage, or impairment in a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems controlling facial perception and memory (right fusiform gyrus)." Source:,cause%20of%20impaired%20social%20development.

Meaning: prosopagnosia involves a malformation or lesion which -- being physical --can't be cured with therapy. It may be preventable with gene-editing, since there's evidence of a genetic component.

Finally, setting aside the whole "conversion disorder vs. proso" issue, the visuals in the show were problematic. Maybe some people with conversion disorder really do see faces as blurry? I guess it's possible.

But prosopagnostics don't. We can see faces perfectly clearly, and (except for the rarest, most extreme cases, which I'm not qualified to talk about) we know they're faces. We just struggle to IDENTIFY the faces. We're seeing strangers, not blurs.

I hope this helps. Again, that was a super-important question, because -- as with any disorder -- the last thing anyone needs is to have uninformed people lecturing them about the need to let go of their trauma, when in fact what they're experiencing is because of a physical scar.

kingdazy30 karma

I guess I'm into in what you, personally , do focus on to recognize individuals? is it just the obvious stuff, like body shape and hairstyle? voice and cadence? movement?

how "deep" does it go? is it just "hard" to recognize individuals who might be similar to other individuals you know? or can you not recognize anyone without concerted efforts?

would it be safe to assume that you'd never mistake someone of African heritage for someone of Anglo heritage? (that seems obvious to me, but I know little about this.)

Odd_Walrus2594107 karma

I've talked about that a lot in other answers, but will try to recap. Hmm, will try to quantify or at least stratify the cues:

  1. Movement. Easily the most helpful cue. I am willing to bet that prosopagnostics would do much better than non-prosos, if the test was to recognize moving silhouettes. Everybody has quirks in their movements, and I've got the mental equivalent of movement dossiers, on everyone I care about. "When confused, Sue shakes her head, whereas Janet freezes." Based on movement alone, I can distinguish familiar people pretty well.
  2. Clothing. Trust a proso to know your wardrobe really well! "Black leather jacket is Dave; brown leather is Mike." I hate clotheshounds; they keep changing it up! My idea of heaven would be three outfits max for everyone, lol.

(On that note, I really appreciate my colleague Lenora, who IS a clotheshound, and also uses a huge variety of glasses, hairstyles, etc. Once I explained the issue, she committed to introducing herself every single time she sees me. To the point where I have to say, "thanks Lenora, but you introduced yourself 10 minutes ago, I know what you're wearing today." Bless her though for being so accommodating!)

ShitOnAReindeer19 karma

From this answer, I’m curious to know if you can tell if somebody is lying? I’ve heard a lot that when someone lies, their movements and twitches are a bit “off” somewhat, have you experienced that?

Odd_Walrus259434 karma

Yes, it seems to help. One of our kids has various disabilities, including autism. He's very sweet, but when overwhelmed, tends to lie. And I have been able to spot his lies very quickly.

At first, they were so illogical that they were obviously lies. As he developed logic, my spouse started to have more trouble spotting lies. But I could usually figure it out quickly, by watching for subtle physical cues. The way he cocked his head or tensed his hand or whatever. I don't think spouse ever developed that level of awareness.

However our son has adapted and is getting better and better at fooling us. I think I'm still much better at picking up on the subtle cues, but it's getting harder. He may have disabilities but he's also a clever little shit.

Gerik228 karma

Do you put in a lot of effort to remember what people are wearing each day, or do you just sort of naturally store that information without a conscious effort? Because I have no problem recognizing faces, but I will almost certainly forget what clothes people are wearing.

Odd_Walrus25943 karma

I only pay conscious attention to clothing, if I have minimal experience with the person, or if they are visually unpredictable (such as someone who wears a lot of different glasses, jackets, hats etc.) Usually I can identify the people I know, just by their voices and the ways they walk. If those fail, then the subtler cues kick in, like blink rate, reaction to jokes, etc. Clothing is more of a final verification. "Pretty sure that's Tina ... and also I remember those shoes."

So the info about clothing is being filed away, but it's mostly unconscious. I do make a special note of clothing if I don't know the person's voice, gait, etc. Especially in high-pressure situations like job interviews. After an interview, I may not be able to describe the interviewers' faces, but I can tell you EVERYTHING about their hairstyles, clothes, accessories (clipboards and whatnot). That's when the conscious memorization happens.

kingdazy3 karma

ha! thx. when I started typing out my questions, there wasn't any, but by the time I processed even half the things I might be curious about, I'm sure there was dozens. thx for taking the time.

the clothing thing doesn't make "sense" to me as a tool, for exactly all the reasons you've outlined. but the motion cadence and particulars of gait certainly does. a lot of things about a person can change from day to day, year to year. but those kinds of physical expressions tend to be lifelong.

what about smell?

Odd_Walrus25943 karma

Very interesting Q about smell.

I don't think I register people's odors ... but maybe? Humans do so many things unconsciously, and smell is certainly a very powerful mnemonic cue. As anyone who used crayons as a kid, can attest, on smelling a crayon today.

So many of the ways of "working around not recognizing faces" are subconscious. Like anybody else, I've got stuff to do. Emails to send, calls to make. When somebody walks up to my desk, I can't devote more than a fraction of my mental energy to figuring out who they are. It's conscious effort, but so is listening to what they want to tell me. So my subconscious has to do most of the heavy lifting, and yeah, I would think that includes smell.

Again, great Q.

smallbrownfrog19 karma

I’m another person with lifelong prosopagnosia, and different people with it have different recognition strategies. I remember somebody who said they recognized hands and somebody else who used skull shape. I seem to use a combination of voice and how somebody acts (their personality and body language) to narrow down who it is beyond their rough body type and hair style.

kingdazy10 karma

I would figure, like other neurological "quirks", that it manifests in differing ways and levels in different people.and so different coping strategies depending. makes sense.

edit: I could never quite comprehend what your experience is actually like, obviously, but I imagine it's a similar mechanism to when I see a person walking down the street quite a ways away, but still able to tell who it is by gait?

does it affect your ability to recognize emotional facial expression?

smallbrownfrog19 karma

There are definitely different levels. Facial recognition in general is a bell curve with “super recognizers” at one extreme and face blind people at the other.

edit: I could never quite comprehend what your experience is actually like, obviously, but I imagine it's a similar mechanism to when I see a person walking down the street quite a ways away, but still able to tell who it is by gait?

Seeing somebody at a distance and recognizing them is a great example, and yes, it’s exactly like that. The example that I often give is that if you go to a Halloween party where everyone is in costume you can often figure out who a lot of the people are by how they sound, move, and behave.

does it affect your ability to recognize emotional facial expression?

I got tested by some people who were studying face blindness and they gave me a separate test for my ability to see facial emotions. I scored very high at that, but scored in the bottom 1% for facial recognition. In fact facial expressions and emotions are a big part of how I recognize people. Different people wear their emotions differently.

Also there is a distinct facial expression that people make when they recognize someone. It’s a super brief expression and not on a conscious level. When I see that expression I know that they know me and that helps me narrow down who they are. (I was using this trick long before I was consciously aware that I was face blind or that there was an expression people make when they recognize someone.)

There are definitely people who have trouble with both facial recognition and recognizing emotions. I think some autistic people have trouble with both.

kingdazy6 karma

In fact facial expressions and emotions are a big part of how I recognize people. Different people wear their emotions differently.

woah. this is genuinely fascinating! it makes perfect sense, explained, but I can't personally imagine separating the two, they're so intrinsically bound to me.

thanks for taking the time to explain. I don't mean to minimize your whole life experience, but it's an endlessly fascinating thing to ponder.

far less obviously fundamental than say blindness or deafness, but a thing that is very hard to imagine not having, because it's such a basic part of socal interaction we all take for granted. (I'm an anosmic, so I occasionally have to explain that experience, which is can be hard to relate to another, explaining something you don't experience.)

Odd_Walrus25943 karma

Have you done an AMA about anosmia? That would be fascinating.

Odd_Walrus25945 karma

Sorry, just realized I missed your Q about ethnicity.

I wouldn't say I'd NEVER mistake someone of African heritage for Anglo. But it's unlikely. I can certainly tell the differences between colours and shades, and between certain ethnically-linked features (broader, flatter noses & thinner sharper ones).

However there are exceptions. When pale people get dark tans -- thankfully this is not common anymore, at least where I live in Canada -- I get confused, because the colour cue is gone. So then I shift to stuff like hairstyle. If the pale person ALSO got dreadlocks during their trip to the Caribbean, well, bad luck for me. And so on.

And then of course there are factors like lighting. As I understand it, our brains automatically adjust for the lighting in our own environment. That's why some people saw the dress as white & gold, and others saw it as blue & black (reference:

So if I'm in the same environment as the person, I can probably tell their skin colour. But if I'm looking at a photo of them, the lighting can be deceptive. Not sure, but I would guess that that particular issue affects most people the same way it does, me.

Scoob887721 karma

Do you have any tricks to recognize people?

I've just recently found out I have this, and so many things make sense. I learned of it reading an article about Brad Pitt where he discussed it and how many people think he's a jerk because he doesn't acknowledge them. I didn't know this was a thing until then.

Odd_Walrus259420 karma

Oh, man, I hear you, about so many things finally making sense. I am glad for you, that all of the pieces are starting to fall into place.

Whatever else we may like or dislike about him, kudos to Brad Pitt for sharing the struggle. Imagine being whispered about, on set, because ppl thought you were too arrogant (being super-famous) to acknowledge their existence. When, in fact, you may have tried very hard to learn their names and jobs and personal stories, and yet, after all that, had no way to spot them, even when they were standing in front of you. I'm surprised Pitt didn't get a WORSE rep.

I carry a ton of guilt, over the people who felt hurt and betrayed, because they thought I "didn't care" about them. I hope that you don't carry that, or, if you do, that you can find a way to live with it in peace. Sure, in the grand scheme of things, this is an easier disability to bear, than many. But it still stings. Wishing you all good things.

Odd_Walrus259416 karma

Sorry. On review, my previous answer didn't address your question, which was about tricks to identify people.

Yes, and no. Yes, in that I pay very close attention to details as minor as whether the cuffs of a leather jacket have a button or not. Whether women seem to prefer gold or silver jewelry. How tall various combinations of people are, relative to one another. Whether they lean forward or back when they laugh. So many things. And not all of that is deliberate. I'm sure everybody notices all that stuff on some level; I just have to do it more consciously.

Basically, I have an extensive index to compare against, when I'm wondering who somebody is. A lot of the time, the mental search comes back as "zero results." When there ARE results, it's the best feeling ever. Ahhhhhh *relief*

Right now I can think of only one other tip for recognizing people, and it sounds stupid, but it works. ASK OTHER PEOPLE. Say, "is that Anna?" when someone enters the room, or an actor comes on screen. Guaranteed, you will look like an idiot, sometimes (possibly "often," if you have proso). Regardless, it's data. Keep feeding that data into your brain. Think of it as training an AI to recognize specific faces. My AI's pretty stupid; maybe yours is, too. But if we feed them enough, they learn. (Or they get scrapped; Are you listening, internal AI?! *menacing stare*)

crowber18 karma

What physical features do you find attractive? Are faces at all attractive even if you cant recognize who it is? Are celebrities that are usually thought of as attractive also attractive to you?

Odd_Walrus259424 karma

Great question. Yeah, I definitely find some faces more attractive than others, and I have no idea why. 'cause I may not even be able to tell the two people apart, if you presented them to me, one at a time. Stand them together, and I can tell them apart, one feature at a time, with effort. But pick one and ask me to rate their attractiveness, and yep, instant answer. It makes no sense.

Yes, if I ranked celebrities in order of attractiveness, it would probably look pretty typical. At least, family & friends don't seem surprised by my choices (and they don't all know about the proso; it's not all that easy to slip into casual conversation). But I think my choices do skew toward people who move well, 'cause I process movement before anything else. Dancers, like Mads Mikkelsen or Tom Holland, I'm gonna rate as more attractive than guys who walk like rhinos. I find Christopher Walken a VERY weird-looking (and weird-sounding) dude, but once I saw Weapon of Choice, he bumped up several levels of attractiveness. Is that, um, normal? :)

Alwaysfavoriteasian18 karma

Is there anyone that you do recognize without reminder of some sort?

Odd_Walrus259437 karma

Sometimes. I've got a roughly 50% success rate, in recognizing casual acquaintances, though that may be because of features like glasses or purple hair, rather than their faces. (One guy I'd worked with for 10 years got contacts, and it took a few months to be able to recognize him.)

Success closer to 80% with spouse, kids, parents, etc. Again, depending on if they're wearing and doing what I'm used to.

That said, success is MUCH MUCH lower with photos. In real life, I can use cues like height, way of moving, tone of voice, etc. A photo has almost none of those cues. So I often stare at photos and ask, "is this (kid name)?" Including photos of myself.

ZiggyPalffyLA16 karma

Does it also apply to animals? Can you remember a specific dog’s face?

Odd_Walrus25947 karma

I'm terrible at visualizing anything, so I don't remember, in that sense.

I do recognize pets I'm familiar with, including our 3 guinea pigs. Pretty sure I would notice the change, if one of them suddenly ran out and got itself a facial reconstruction. So if I knew a pair of dogs moderately well, yeah, I should be able to tell them apart, with the same amount of effort it would take anyone.

The reason why we even have a name for prosopagnosia is that humans, on the whole, are much better at recognizing humans than other animals or objects. Our brains are wired that way. So there's usually a big gap in ease of identification. Whereas, for me, it's all more or less the same level of difficulty.

I would guess that my scores would be about the same, for picking my kids out of a group of teenagers, and picking two familiar dogs out of a crowd of similar-looking dogs. In both cases, I'd have to look for specifics, like the kids' hair length or the dogs' fur markings. There just isn't the instant recognition that most people seem to have, in looking at other people.

Tikimanly14 karma

About a decade ago, I remember reading that car-enthusiasts have a slightly harder time recognizing human faces, because their ability to recognize faces is more broadly applied - the same cognitive feature is also used to recognizing [the fronts of] cars.

To any extent, do you perceive the fronts of cars as something easier to identify as a whole (rather than focusing on its individual parts)?

And one more Q: Do you find it common for something to visually strike you as being "cute"? (It's hard to describe why some things appear cute to me, but if I had to search for an explanation, I would assume it's something about proportions which get evaluated by my brain the same way faces do.)

Odd_Walrus259426 karma

Am probably not supposed to have favourites (or admit to them, anyway) but this is my favourite question by far. So far.

Which is why I waited so long to answer. Had to let it percolate awhile. Sorry. (Am Canadian, so am legally obliged to apologize, for everything.)

I look at cars a lot. In fact, I've been playing a game with my kids, since they were little, involving describing the contours and lights on the backs of cars -- especially at night -- as "faces" expressing various emotions. Usually the lights are the eyes, and the seam around the trunk is the mouth. (Spouse would say, "yeah I play that game too," but I INVENTED IT, DAMMIT.)

So, re: "do you perceive the fronts of cars as something easier to identify as a whole (rather than focusing on its individual parts)?" No. There's an intense feeling of hunger when I look at cars. I'm scanning for expression: is this car happy? sad? angry? I just can't look at a car, front OR rear, without trying to process it as a face, with the attendant emotion(s).

It's very interesting that you said, "the same cognitive feature (involved in facial recognition) is also used to recognize [the fronts of] cars." Thank you for that. It's spurring intense WHAT THE HELL reflections.

As for your second Q, "Do you find it common for something to visually strike you as being 'cute?'" Yep, pretty sure that part of my brain functions normally. I took a couple of upper-level psych classes at a university that happens to have a particular focus on infant development (including how adults process infantile features)

So I can return at least a little of the favour -- of your excellent Q -- by confirming that, yes, you nailed it: proportions are the main visual cue for 'cuteness.' In particular, we process bodies as 'cute' if they have short limbs (think of how big puppies' paws appear, relative to their short limbs), large eyes, and small midfaces (noses and mouths). Also up-tilted noses, because young babies need those, in order to be able to breathe while breast-feeding. So, yep, proportions are, as you speculated, the key to understanding cuteness.

I hope that's a small repayment for teaching me something really significant, today.


DookixTran13 karma

when did you first find out that you had face blindness instead of something else? and how was that like finding out?

Odd_Walrus259424 karma

I'm self-diagnosed. I'm not aware of any formal test for this. However it became pretty obvious, once the errors and consequences piled up to the point where it was seriously affecting my life. For example, the time I got "fired" by a client, who told my clinical mentors (in a midwifery clinic) that they refused to see me ever again, because I didn't recognize them 5 minutes after spending an hour with them, doing intensive counselling. I mean, at some point, there is clearly a problem! So once I found out about prosopagnosia, it all fell into place.

Pete400013 karma

Fellow prosopagnosian here, (don't know if that's a word) I have always struggled to watch a new movie/TV and favour watching the same movie multiple times, recently I've come to the conclusion I don't get enjoyment from films on the first time round as I can't follow characters through the film. That a thing for you?

Odd_Walrus259412 karma

If it wasn't already a word, let's declare it a word now. PROSOPAGNOSIANS UNITE!

(Tho that does sound vaguely like we're a bunch of undersea or extraterrestrial creatures, plotting to take over the Earth. And what if we are, Earthlings?)

Can definitely relate to enjoying TV and film more on the second go-round. I posted an answer, elsewhere in this conversation, about re-watching an entire season of a show in which almost all of the characters had similar hair/clothes/builds. It was so much more fun to watch, the second time through.

But it's hard to get loved ones to watch twice, right? We almost need to preview everything so we can fully enjoy it with them.


byllz12 karma

Could you do this test for us? I want to know how full of shit the test is.

I did it and got a 57, which was better than 7.5% of the test takers.

Odd_Walrus259428 karma

Wow, that was interesting. Thank you!

I'm almost embarrassed to say that I got a score of 60 (16th percentile, meaning that 84% of people got a higher score.). I feel like it's wrong to claim to be proso with a score that high.

BUT. Here's the thing. People with proso manage to function, socially, by finding workarounds. And even though I consciously tried not to apply my workarounds during the test, I did. So, for example, I tagged one of the faces as, "triangular hair profile, in a pink shirt," and (I think) correctly classified that one as "seen," throughout the test. But it had nothing to do with her face. I tagged the hair and the shirt.

I can still see various combos of shirt colour, and hair profile. And sometimes, a single really unusual feature (e.g., the one guy with the droopy left eye). That's how I classified the pix.

If I could give the researchers feedback, I'd tell them to blot out the clothes and the hair. Make all the models wear a hairnet, and a barber's apron, so all we can see is their faces. And THEN I think the test would target proso.

Or maybe I'm just embarrassed to have done reasonably "well?" Honestly, one of the lasting scars of proso is that many of us feel so guilty about all of the people we've insulted. I ALMOST want to believe it's my fault.

Fuck that test, sideways with a cactus. :)

miles29129 karma

So people that you have known for years do you still have trouble recognizing them? Like if you saw an old friend that you've known since grade school would you still know their face?

Odd_Walrus259411 karma

I think that needs a two-part answer.

  1. People I have kept touch with, only via photos, for a long time: no, there's no advantage, when I see them in person. Photos just don't help very much. I depend on outlines (like shape of a jaw) which are all sort of flattened and blunted in 2D pictures. Also on movement, like the order in which muscles move in a smile -- think, Harrison Ford's famous slow smile that spreads from one side to the other -- and that's also not in a photo. So if contact has been solely via photos, then that's very little help, in person.
  2. People I've seen a lot in person: depends on recency of contact. Our outlines change a lot, over time. So do our clothes. I might associate someone with a jacket they wear all the time, but 5 years later, that jacket is gone. So if the contact's recent, yes it helps a lot. If it was more than about 5 years ago, it's somewhere between mildly-helpful and useless.

granadesnhorseshoes9 karma

Movies and TV. Do they usually maintain enough consistency between scenes to make them watchable? Are some genres or director styles better or worse for it?

Odd_Walrus259417 karma

I HATE anything with matching clothing. Military gear, hospital scrubs, prep school sweaters, anything where the crowd matches, is awful for me to watch. Either I keep rewinding and rewatching, OR I pepper the people in the room with questions until they tell me to shut up. (They're super patient about my proso, but even so, at some point everybody breaks: "CAN WE WATCH THE MOVIE NOW?")

Ditto for other physical qualities, like, say ... a movie about basketball players who are all 7 feet tall. Or all blond. Or whatever. This is a bit of an issue with Asian shows & films. I've been watching Korean sci-fi lately, and it's pretty rough when everyone's got straight dark hair and nobody's over 5 foot 8.

Worst example, so far, was an Asian zombie series in a high school. All the black hair, short stature, etc. commonalities, PLUS school uniforms ... ugh ugh ugh. I didn't even like it that much, but I re-watched the entire first season, just to put all of the confusion to rest. Not sure if I'm up for season 2! (Hilariously, often the only way I could tell kids apart was by the location of the bloodstains on their clothes. THANK YOU to the director for keeping that consistent, at least.)

Kaldek8 karma

How's your recognition of people by voice? Is it stronger than people without the condition?

Odd_Walrus25945 karma

Pretty good. Not a superpower, but better than most people's, I think.

I hear components of people's voices that others don't seem to hear. The other day, my spouse was watching a clip from Breaking Bad, and I said, "I know that's Bryan Cranston and not Jonathan Frakes, but his voice is a lot like Frakes'." Spouse looked at me like I was insane (which he does a lot, lol).

So I hurried to explain: "Not the pitch or the intonation or the timbre. But the enunciation, the moments of vocal fry ... and OK, now THAT was similar intonation." And spouse shook his head slightly and said, "sure."

(VO by Morgan Freeman: "He was sure, all right. He was sure he'd married a madwoman.")

but it's correct dammit

RepliesPantsless8 karma

I have a friend with the same condition. She told me that her quacks throw research surveys/questions/tests at her every so often, always seemingly from left field. Once they tested to see if she could recognize horses' faces, and apparently she completely nailed it. Have you been through anything like that?

Odd_Walrus259414 karma

Wow. Horses' faces, huh? Nope, never encountered anything like that.

I've never had formal testing for proso. And I have no idea what such testing would involve. Obviously your friend knows way more that I do. Maybe suggest that she do an IAmA or AMA? I wish I could comment further, but just have nothing to add.

However ... this is way off-topic, but I think it's interesting:

I've had formal testing for some mental health issues, and they threw in a lot of -- in my opinion -- really random stuff, like testing my claim that I had ambidexterity. That turned out to be true.

The interesting bit is that my grandpa, who first identified the ambidexterity, was offered the chance to try out for Detroit, in the '50s, and turned it down because he had 4 kids to feed, and could make more money continuing as a high school math teacher. How times have changed.

AnalPotpourri7 karma

What about inanimate objects? Like, would you have trouble picking out a specific coffee cup if you used it a lot but then someone stuck it in a group of similar-but-not-identical coffee cups? Or if they put a tiny hat on your coffee cup, would you be like “where’s my coffee?”

Odd_Walrus259415 karma

Bahaha. Yep, put a hat on anything, and I'm lost. Hat on a pencil? "What is this, a car?"

But seriously, no, I'm totally average when it comes to anything other than faces.

Think of it this way: human brains have evolved to be especially good at recognizing faces. That's why we think we see faces on toast and on Mars and all that shit. Our brains are thirsty for faces, all the time. We have an area of the brain DEVOTED to processing faces.

Except my brain-processing area doesn't work. Or, at least, doesn't work well.

My coffee-cup processing area works just fine. :)

Odd_Walrus25946 karma

Sorry, guys, I am trying to keep up. Have never had to handle more than one reply at a time, before. Thanks for your interest! I WILL get to your question(s). <3

adudeguyman6 karma

Would it be easier to remember who someone was if they had a very distinctive scar on their face? This way, when you see the scar, you know that scar belongs to Tom who got too close to an alligator.

Odd_Walrus25947 karma

Poor Tom! (Good on the alligator, though. Go Gators!)

Scars definitely help, but it's tricky because many are only visible from certain angles or in certain light. If someone walks up to me, and I *think* it's Tom, they're going to get weirded out if I sidle off to the left while scanning for the scar under their ear. I do a lot of "hey, look at this other thing" distractions, so I can quickly look for whatever subtle characteristic I'm expecting to find.

One of my kids has a very obvious scar in the middle of his forehead, and that's a handy cue. Luckily it's close enough to the eyes that it's not obvious when I look for it.

Dr_Ukato5 karma

How easy would it be for someone to trick you they're someone else? I imagine if you could be fooled by the brother of a friend to tell them embarrassing information, you might not be the first guy people go to with secrets. XD

Odd_Walrus259411 karma

EASY. My spouse pulled that off, back when he was my boyfriend. Shaved off his beard and faked being a cousin. See the full story elsewhere in this conversation.

It would be harder for him today. I know his voice, movements, etc., too well. But I would definitely feel very strange for a few days. (The upside is that it's ridiculously easy to play "who's that sexy stranger" bedroom games, lol.)

Your scenario, of "the brother of a friend," is impossible for me. I'd never recognize them, as themselves OR as anyone else. But then, that means I'd never trust them, either. I'm constantly suspecting I've misidentified someone, even if I just saw them yesterday. So I just might be the BEST girl (not guy) to entrust with secrets!

A-to_the-k5 karma

Thanks for doong the AMA.

Since letter recogintion is tied to face recognition, do you have peoblems recongnising letters or words? Did you have a hard time learning to read?

Odd_Walrus25948 karma

letter recogintion is tied to face recognition

I've never heard about the connection betw letter & face recognition. Very interesting!

To your Q: Quite the opposite, in my case. In fact, my parents were a bit shameless in inviting their friends to give me complicated things to read, at the ages of 2 & 3. When I read those things correctly, ppl said I must have already seen the texts somewhere. (Speaking as a parent, that would be bloody impressive recall for a 2-3 year old, in itself. lol)

So, if there's a connection, I'm a very bad example of it. Super early-reader. Super early-writer. And shit at recognizing faces.

orangpelupa4 karma

Do you find anime/manga characters easier to recognize due their unique hair style, shillouette, etc?

Odd_Walrus25945 karma

I'm not much into anime/manga, so I dunno. That could be an interesting experiment. Generally, yeah, unique hair styles, silhouettes, etc., are super helpful.

I can always identify Aang, the Last Airbender, because of the giant blue arrow on his head, if that helps to answer the question, lol. (Though after he grew out his hair, it got a lot harder. Fortunately he's shorter than everybody else, so that helps. Again, uniqueness is always easier.)

tesserakti3 karma

Can you recognize people by their voice? Or other features like height, body shape and maneurisms?

Odd_Walrus25945 karma

All of the things you named are, collectively, at least two-thirds of how I recognize people. (The more questions I answer, the more I worry that none of my numbers add up. I'm just tossing out numbers that feel right. Don't expect too much consistency.)

Coverings like face paint or Hallowe'en masks do throw me off a bit, so obviously I must depend on some facial cues. Best I can say is that, if you gave me ONLY one type of cue at a time (like only the pic of a face, or only a silhouette of a person walking), I'm going to recognize people more often for the non-face cues.

I often say stuff to my spouse, while we're watching TV, along the lines of, "that actor sounds like actor X, though I realize it's not actor X. Different pitch and intonation, but the timbre is the same." And he just looks confused. Maybe it's because I have to depend on voices so much -- it's certainly not musical talent; I have studied various instruments, and am CLEARLY not musically exceptional in any way -- but, for whatever reason, I can identify a ton of elements in a voice that most people don't seem to. So that helps. (Does that help? lol)

oddwithoutend2 karma

If all faces look the same to you, it seems like it would be like only being able to see one face in everyone you see. I'm fascinated by what that face looks like to you. I don't know how you could possibly explain to me what that face looks like, but is there a particularly unrecognizable celebrity that's just impossible for you to identify because there's no distinct features?

Odd_Walrus25942 karma

Imagine you're handed a sheet of photos, which are a mix of people you know & people you don't. The challenge is to pick our the ones you know, as quickly as possible. And all the people IN the photos are standing around watching you do it.

"No problem," you say. The task takes you 10 seconds.

But (I wave a wand; *poof*) now the faces are upside down. It takes you 20 seconds.

*Poof* The colours are also inverted (blue is yellow, yellow is blue, etc.) It takes you 40 seconds.

*Poof* The faces are now oriented in random directions. Chins pointing every which way. And the colours are still inverted.

We never find out how long sheet 4 would take you, because a couple of people whose opinions are important to you -- like your boss -- are highly offended that you're struggling to recognize them, and you've teared up. Maybe it would be better to be alone for awhile ...

That's the best analogy I've got. Notice that you never lost the ability to see the details in the photos, but they still became harder and harder to recognize. Life with prosopagnosia is like that: we can SEE faces just fine, but we don't RECOGNIZE them very well.

Some have mild difficulty, like the sheet where all the pix were upside down. Some have severe difficulty, more like the sheet with random orientations plus inverted colours.

Re: a celebrity who's especially difficult to identify ... I have a lot of trouble with Jamie Foxx. Like a caricaturist, I look for features to "exaggerate" in my memory, and he just doesn't seem to have any. Really generic-faced, lol.

Raezak_Am1 karma

How do I tell if I am face blind or racist?

Odd_Walrus25941 karma

Upvote for you. My family makes a lot of cracks about my "racism." :) Well, we make a lot of cracks about everything, but that's a common one.

As I noted in other answers, I have a really hard time identifying people of Chinese/Korean/Japanese/etc. descent, which is ironic since my husband's half-Japanese, and a lot of his relatives are full-Japanese. And yeah, when I mix them up, I usually mock myself with something like, "that's RACIST!"