Monday, August 25, 2008

Face-blindness

Pavlov's Cat directs us to a great page where you can make your own manga. This is mine.

I cheated, though, since I got Joel to make it for me. As PC remarks, it has options for making you look "too young", as Joel said, or completely shrivelled. He found by putting my reading glasses on he could get a better image, but he was disadvantaged as it allowed you to put only one spot on.... (He used to practise counting, when a small child, by counting the moles on my face.) I did try having a go at doing my own, but couldn't work out how to translate the image in my mirror into the graphic possibilities listed. As a Wii player, though, who at one point made Wii avatars of most of the cast of the West Wing, he was my resident expert.

I find the question of facial recognition very interesting. I am not very good at it at all, and am one of those people who can't always follow the plots of TV or films because I can't always tell the actors apart. There is a lovely name for the serious end of this spectrum: prosopagnosia, or face-blindness. It can be acquired (after trauma or degenerative illness), or developmental (it can take hold before your growing brain learns how to distinguish faces).

There is a terrific website about this condition, from the Prosopagnosia research centres at Harvard and University College, London, where you can take a couple of online tests. On the first one, where you are asked to memorise then recognise faces, I scored 49/72, which translates to 68%, where if you score less than 65% you probably have face-blindness. On the second test, where you are asked to recognise famous faces without their hair, etc. I scored 18/30, which was 60%, where an average score is 85%.

This is not a particularly big problem for me, though I do tend to use things like hair and voice and clothes and emotional affect to help me in the movies. On the other hand, I have had a couple of truly awful moments in my life when I have not recognised someone I really should have, or where I have confused a perfect stranger with someone I know. I have told these stories to a select few, and they are kind of funny; but it can be a little tricky — and in the extreme cases, where people can't recognise their nearest and dearest, it must be quite debilitating. For me, it's mostly just a case of being amazed when people I'm watching TV with can recognise actors from other shows. I've never had any trouble remembering my students' faces, for example, though I'd be absolutely hopeless if I ever had to sit down with the police and the Identikit.

Dame Eleanor has recently blogged about the fatigue of being at a conference and feeling a bit shy and catching herself looking past the person you're with for another familiar face. And I'm sure we've all been there. At the same conference, I found myself often over-compensating for my fear of not being able to recognise people I had already met (I hate the embarrassment when someone I think I've just met for the first time tells me when we last met), by greeting a number of folk rather more effusively than they had reason to expect. So if that was you, this was why. In addition to my being overcome by enthusiasm for your writerly and scholarly brilliance, of course.

Later.... Wanna take the test and post your results as a comment? Or send me your avatar in an email? We could put up a gallery. This seems to be the meme of the moment, judging from the (Australian) (women's) blogs I've dropped in on tonight...

13 comments:

Stephanie Trigg said...

Hmmm. Louise has emailed to say she got 100% and 97% on those tests. That's setting the bar pretty high, I must say...

Pavlov's Cat said...

I got 93 for both. And there were a couple of famous faces it was truly shocking of me not to recognise.

I'm doing a manga-gallery of mates from memory, and mine for you is far more flattering than Joel's! Perhaps the Artiste draws the avatar relative to his/her own age; mine makes you look like a glammo 1940s movie star.

Mel said...

I got 97 for both. Only my failure to recognise Tony Blair when he wasn't smiling ruined the second test.

Dr. Virago said...

I got a 94 for the first test and 100% for the celebrity test, though having read Mel's comment first, I think my Blair answer shouldn't count -- I might not have recognized him from that picture, either.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yeah; perhaps not mention names for a day or two, in case others want to do the test blind (heh heh). I certainly didn't get Blair without the hair, and am appalled at some of the others I didn't get either.

But really, when doing the first test, towards the end I was almost clicking at random, unable to remember whether a face that looked familiar was because it was one of the six target faces or because it had been on the previous screen (but perhaps it hadn't!).

Dr Cat, I don't suppose you'd like to send me my gorgeous long-distance avatar, would you???

imagestoliveby said...

oops, just realised you might not know who the above comment was from - it's Alison Young, your colleague-in-a-different-School!

Stephanie Trigg said...

Sometimes blogger just doesn't want to accept a comment (I sometimes have to go round and round with my password and word verification till the cheerful green message appears at top of the comments screen). Alison's obviously got swallowed up... She tells me she got 97% and 90%. Another excellent result.

So it's just me, then!

David Thornby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Thornby said...

I ended up with 93 and 97 -- though to be fair I may not have got T.B. either, without having read the comments first. I didn't know you're not good at facial recognition; I'm a bit surprised that it doesn't make teaching a bit difficult though. (I scored alright and I still find it difficult in a teaching environment!) For me, when I find someone who looks a lot like someone else I know (which happens quite a lot), it's very hard not to expect personality traits of the older acquaintance to be also held by the new acquaintance, with unfortunately-so-far-not-hilarious results. It's an interesting tidbit though, which I am going to choose to use (rather rudely without your permission!) to explain something I have occasionally recalled since I finished my time at Melbourne.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Why do I get the feeling this "something you have occasionally recalled" involves me not recognising you? All's fair in the interests of science, I guess, so you go right ahead!

I think with teaching I have tended to worry more about linking names with faces, so I've thought of it more as a memory problem, and so it hasn't bothered me. I've only just realised this as a mild condition over the last year or so. Perhaps it's the medication? I'm blaming everything else on it, so why not this as well?

David Thornby said...

Without wanting to bang on too much more, but for completeness -- yes and no. It was more to do with not being sure whether you'd recognised me or not, than thinking that you definitely hadn't, which happens often enough that I likely wouldn't have remembered the event at all. Brains are odd.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

That first test was the most anxiety provoking one I ever took! I got 75%, partly through guesses. The only face I consistently knew was the semi-scary staring guy with the pointy chin. I breathed with relief every time he flashed on. Otherwise they all looked like Shrek.

I'm not doing the second test because I wam way too frazzled now.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Yay! another one such as I! We can have lots of fun at conferences not recognising each other...