Face Blindness

Face Blindness

Walking along the street, a stranger begins to approach you. The person looks you in the eye and beams as if he’s a friend. He even says ‘hello’. But you, on the other hand, only stare back. You fail to recognize him at all. Has something like this ever happened to you? Maybe the stranger turned out to be a friend whom you were meeting after years. Or maybe it was someone in a new haircut and new clothes.

Now imagine having such an experience with every person you meet during your day, including even your closest friends! Such a complete inability to remember faces is known as Face Blindness.

Is Face Blindness like being blind?
Face blindness does not mean that the person cannot see your face. It is just that he or she cannot differentiate your face from that of others. Like how all babies appear the same to some people. It is like seeing a bowl of fruits and later trying to remember where the apple lay in the bowl or how the banana was placed.

Identical faces
Baby faces that seem identical, belong in fact to the grandmother(L), mother(Center) and daughter(R)

For people with face blindness, it is extremely tough to follow a movie. They are unable to tell if the character on screen had appeared earlier or not. Or if the man with a beard was different from that man with a beard in the other scene.

Social life is not easy for someone who faces a daily challenge of recalling faces. After all, one needs to remember the people we live with, hang out with, and work with. It can be awful to not recognize your own dinner guests! At times, such a person does not recognize their own mirror image even.

There is no cure for Face Blindness. Such people often need to use tricks to remember others. It is difficult for them to process a face as a whole. So, they focus on individual features. They try to remember the sweet voice or the blue color of the eyes. They might recognize a friend by her curly hair. Or they may know someone by their style of dressing. And God forbid, if the friend changes her hairstyle, she will be easily ignored!

Once a woman with face blindness did not recognize her own mother simply because the mother wore a new hat. Another time, a man used to ask his dinner guests to wear name tags.

Why does this happen?
Humans have evolved to use a part of their brain only for recognizing faces. Any damage to this part of the brain can cause face blindness. The damage can happen when the person hits their head really bad. Or sometimes people just are born with this. Face blindness is not very common. Scientists say only about two in a hundred people get affected.

It is not always easy for a person to know they have this problem. Many live their entire lives without ever realizing they have face blindness. People simply accept that they are silly enough to not remember faces.

Interesting fact

Did you know that all of us are face blind to face-images upside down?

Inverted face blindness

Are you having difficulty recognizing this celebrity on the Left?

Now let us place her picture back. See if you recognize her now? Isn’t it amazing?

Inverted face blindness
Inverted face blindness, File Photo of Taylor Swift, 2009, Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Additional Resources:
Check out this great tool to test if you are a super face-recognizer – developed by researchers at Harvard University and Dartmouth College. And another test by the same researchers.

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