What it’s like to be profoundly face-blind

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I know the opposite – never forgetting a face, but being hardly able to recall a name (I will recall every story associated with the face).


I am mildly prosopagnosiastic. I usually don’t recognize people until I have known them for a fairly long time. Partly, I see “faces” as being arbitrary feature sets people latch onto, and I tend to gravitate strongly towards actual linguistic forms of communication. What many seem to not consider is that there are other ways to recognize people, such as their body size/shape, and especially their voice. Quite often, I do not recognize a person until they start speaking. It’s probably more of an autistic thing, since I mostly tend to avoid gazing upon people unless necessary.


I’ve always been known as being almost the complete opposite (I even was able to tell the police where a criminal went after only seeing his face for a few seconds at least an hour before).

However, I worked pedicab a few years back in Austin, and there was a guy working for another company that I’d have to introduce myself to every single week. I’m pretty sure he was profoundly prosopagnosiastic. The people working for our company always dressed so similarly, and the roster was always losing and gaining people. It must have driven him nuts to have to constantly do the introduction thing.

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If I had this condition I’d ask everyone close to me to accommodate my condition by wearing some sort of uniquely identifying bracelet or pin or shoelaces or something…

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I am similarly mildly propagnosiac, although I tend to depend on hair, etc. more than voice.

I bet that even though many people know she has this condition, they don’t really believe in it. And so they secretly feel that she doesn’t recognize them because she doesn’t care about them. That’s rough.


It’s not only rough, but it’s also extremely lazy, not to mention disadvantageous. The main reason why people project their emotions and resort to dismissiveness is because it’s easier than modelling a more honest schema which acknowledges that others may not think the same way that you do. People seem willing to throw anybody under the bus if it means not doing anything differently, because many (most?) people strongly identify with their own habitual behaviors.


Teddy: You know how many towns, how many guys called James G? Or John G? Shit, Leonard, I’m a fuckin’ John G.

Leonard Shelby: Your name’s Teddy.

Teddy: My mother calls me Teddy.

Sometimes I have a tough time of it. There was a blonde that I would see in the nightclubs from time to time, but if I was in a different club I wasn’t sure that it was her. I saw her on the street during the day now and then, but I still wasn’t sure if it were here or someone else.

Then I saw her on TV; it was Amy Roloff, the mom on Little People, Big World. SRSLY, it took me months to fit the pieces together.

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I have to go by hair, facial hair, odd expressions, etc. If someone is wearing a cap or has shaved recently, chances are I won’t recognize them.

It makes me glad to work in an office with badges, but I still need to be sly about checking the names on there or risk offending someone I’ve worked with for months.


“I shouldn’t know you again if we did meet,” Humpty Dumpty replied in a discontented tone, giving her one of his fingers to shake; “you’re so exactly like other people.”

“The face is what one goes by, generally,” Alice remarked in a thoughtful tone.

“That’s just what I complain of,” said Humpty Dumpty. “Your face is the same as everybody has——the two eyes, so——” (marking their places in the air with his thumb) “nose in the middle, mouth under. It’s always the same. Now if you had the two eyes on the same side of the nose, for instance——or the mouth at the top——that would be some help.”

“It wouldn’t look nice,” Alice objected. But Humpty Dumpty only shut his eyes and said “Wait till you’ve tried.”


It sucks. Even with a non-catastrophic case, recognizing a person by sight only is a crapshoot at best. In absence of more variables to check (voice, style of walk…) the probability of success goes sharply down.

You leave a room. You return back. And now, who in the array of people was the conversation partner? How to track the social dynamics within the group without being able to rely on the built-in functions that aren’t there and that just can not be replaced by conscious tracking (the results are poor and tie down all the cognitive capabilities and it is exhausting).

Then when within an interaction it is about tracking all the nonverbal crap. With conscious effort you can get some 10% with annoyingly low signal/noise ratio, and, again, the cognitive overhead is rather catastrophical. Often the best strategy is to not try and substitute safe defaults instead. Won’t get you far but doing your best won’t get you far too. Damned if you do damned if you don’t, so go for the path of less effort, the results will be the same.

The lack of confidence this all brings is less than helpful as well.


Yeah. Sometimes I resent how much of my memory is allocated to celebrity/media. And I can’t keep it straight. I was in a bar in Africa and ran into a high school acquaintance. Or so I thought, turns out it was John Cusack. “Hey, have we met?”.

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Since the 20th century, everybody is “the media”, except some don’t know it yet.

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