Monday, July 20, 2015


This quickly devolves into a personal story that only speculatively has anything to do with faceblindness, but in the meantime it's interesting. I've been thinking about how to recognize faces more often since I realized more clearly how bad I am at it, and since moving to Brisbane was the first time I've moved since having that clarity, meeting so many new people over the last 9 months has provided a constant stream of new data. Disorganized thoughts:
  1. The "I know you face" is indeed extremely helpful. I also try to arrive early to things when meeting an acquaintance so that they'll have to approach me, as I mentioned previously and as the lady in that story says she does. And if I get there on time, I avoid eye contact and focus somewhere off in the distance or do whatever else it takes to give them the opportunity to make the I-know-you face at me. If I'm not sure whether I know someone or not, I also maneuver things to the same effect (by making sure they see me while I'm not obviously looking at them.) It's extremely helpful and probably the single most important thing I use.
  2. Conversely, I think I've subconsciously converged my polite-hello and I-know-you faces. Strangers may question whether they've met me before, but at least people I know can't be sure that I don't recognize them. I hope. The story in the article about her dad tipping his hat to absolutely everyone sounds very familiar.
  3. Recently I had the extremely unusual experience of recognizing someone who didn't recognize me. He had a rainbow mohawk. Unfortunately, it's not always rainbow, so I'll never recognize him again...
  4. Moving here with Matt has been particularly interesting because he is unusually great at recognizing people, and we're meeting all these new people at the same time so the disparity is crystal clear. Twice a month we go to a functional programming meetup group together, and he recognizes everyone there no problem whatsoever, and while I know most of the names, they are ALL white males, 80% with facial hair, and it is frankly comical how hopeless I am at keeping them straight. Someone gives a talk and by the time we're standing around eating pizza ten minutes later I don't know who it was. I talk to one of them at the bar afterwards for over an hour and the next month don't realize that I've ever seen him before. This all despite quite a bit of deliberate effort to come up with distinguishing features on my part. Matt apparently didn't realize how much I meant it when I said I'm bad at faces, and finds the whole thing pretty hilarious.
  5. Aren't I lucky to be accompanied by a guy with such a convenient skill who's nice enough to put up with my endless questions? I just have to get him to come to conferences with me :) Sigh, I had such high hopes for google glass taking care of this for me...
  6. I've realized that height is another really important way I recognize people, in addition to hair and clothing. Unfortunately, height is perceived relative to one's own, so "the guy who's a little bit shorter than me" means nothing to Matt (when trying to figure out who someone is after the fact by describing him), and isn't enough for me to pick them out of a photo.
  7. Voice, unlike the lady from that article, is really not that useful. Maybe that would be helpful to focus on, but it wouldn't help with the single thing that I actually really want help with, which is being able to identify whether I already know someone in order to navigate the beginning of conversations. I've had plenty of practice at deducing who someone is or whether I know them from the conversation itself.
  8. That is much more than enough introspection into such a trivial issue. Back to work! (But why is it that differences in mental experiences are so fascinating? A mild case of faceblindness can't possibly affect my experience more than, say, missing one pinky toe, and I doubt a severe case is more impactful than missing a finger, but I sure don't see any viral articles about physical issues. Is it purely that it's harder to imagine being in a different mind than in a different body? I suppose I can believe that.)
(Link stolen from MR.)


Anonymous said...

The types of adaptations you describe strike me as affecting your experience substantially more than missing a (non-thumb) finger would, and yet much less noticeably. (Preoccupying you in the first moments of encounter after encounter!?) Unless I'm underestimating the consequences of being minus a finger.

And even the lack of noticability by itself would make these sorts of differences fascinating, because people would be eager to compare their experiences along some hitherto invisible dimension, at least to assess whether, yet again, the difference is trivial, as you happen to suspect this one is.

Vera L. te Velde said...

Eh, I don't want to underestimate the difficulties a more serious version of the issue presents to others, but I also don't want to overestimate the problems it causes me - it's easy in hindsight to pick out the long string of problems that have happened but those are accumulated over time. Conferences are always going to be minefields but people are at least superficially nice about it when I'm up front about not remembering them.

Generally speaking, I definitely think invisible psychological differences are endlessly fascinating to compare and learn about (I'm a behavioral scientist after all!) but am, especially in my own case, very wary of exaggerating differences into problems. I've intentionally not blogged about this with regard to other psychological differences, but briefly, I don't want to get anywhere close to using knowledge of my unique or unusual attributes as an (inadvertent or explicit) excuse for failure or for not trying, so I do intentionally try to interpret these things in a way that avoids that rabbit hole :)