I found out about 3 years ago that I have mild faceblindness (or prosopagnosia). When I mention this, I get a lot of questions about it, so I thought I’d write a little bit about what my experience is like.
I’ve always had trouble telling people apart, but thought I had a bad memory or was being careless. It wasn’t until an extremely embarrassing situation with someone I didn’t recognize at all that I decided to look into this “memory problem” and find strategies for remembering faces.
I stumbled on a page and quiz about faceblindness and immediately identified with the symptoms.
One of the telltale signs of prosopagnosia is great reliance on non-facial information such as hair, gait, clothing, voice, and other information. Prosopagnosics also sometimes have difficulty imagining the facial appearance of acquaintances. One of the most common complaints of prosopagnosics is that they have trouble following the plot of television shows and movies, because they cannot keep track of the identity of the characters. – Prosopagnosia Research Centers
I’ve never read anything that describes my life so well! I rely heavily on clues like clothing and hair to recognize people — which makes it difficult when one of your main hobbies is cosplay. I immediately took faceblindness quizzes online and found that my scores are pretty abysmal.
(I actually just took these quizzes again for the first time in a few years, and while my scores have improved, they are still pretty awful. Here’s hoping my scores improved because I’m making an active effort to remember faces, and not just because I remember the celebrities in the quiz! Colby also laughed at me, because we literally just watched the new Matt Damon movie, and I wrote that he was Brad Pitt. Good job, Mia.)
Prosopagnosia seems to be caused by head/brain injury or a developmental, possibly genetic, issue. My case has always been there, so it’s likely just something that didn’t quite develop correctly.
I like to explain my faceblindness by saying I can’t recognize people outside of context, but really, that’s just my reliance on non-facial cues. If someone says hi to me at a convention or at work, I have a limited group of people that I can pull from to try and remember who it is. My interactions often include an inner dialogue of, “Okay, dark long hair, glasses… who do I know with dark long hair and glasses that would be here?” It’s like a flow chart of possible individuals. If I see someone in a context where they are unexpected, it may be impossible for me to realize who they are!
Some prosopagnosics can’t recognize the people closest to them or tell the difference between faces. Luckily, I can recognize my close friends and family, and if you show me two photos or two people, I can tell that there are differences.
Being faceblind affects my daily life because, believe it or not, people get offended when you don’t recognize them! I have a hard time being confident in greeting people because I’m never sure if I’ve met them before or not. This is extremely difficult in both social and professional situations. Every time I meet someone for the first time or we meet at a location, I’m nervous I won’t recognize them.
I have a lot of tricks and tactics for working around it, like introducing someone I do know to someone I’m not sure I know, or lots of social media creeping before events, but for the most part, I’m winging it and trying my best to recognize people. If I really can’t tell who someone is, I apologize and ask them to remind me, and explain that I’m faceblind. I know it sounds like an excuse, but I just genuinely can’t recognize people.
While it’s not ideal, I’m lucky that my case seems to be pretty mild, so I can definitely work around it.
My biggest question I have yet to answer for myself is whether or not my faceblindness affects my self-esteem. Maybe I simply don’t know what I actually look like? I’m definitely curious if it is a factor.