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Friday, October 4, 2013
Seriously though, tonight I wanted to talk about Prosopagnosia aka "face blindness".
Face blindness is essentially the inability to recognize people from just their face. There are different nuances to the condition that I wont get into, but I will start off by stating it effects people differently. Some people can't even recognize their own family, at all. Without a contextual cue. For example a man can come home and know the woman in the house is likely his wife, and act accordingly. Yet if she surprised him in the grocery store he'd have no clue who she was unless he recognized her outfit. This is because theres no context to cue him as to who she is. Without context she could be his mail lady for all he knows.
I'm no where near that severe. However there is a noticeable deficit now that I deal with reasonable amounts of people on a daily basis. I really can't think of any instance of this happening in childhood or even early adulthood, but I don't doubt it existed. I've never had large circles of people around me and my contexts were pretty limited, so there really weren't any situations to bring it to my attention. No proverbial wife to surprise me at the grocery store.
Today I had a client in class. This is one of my regulars and I noticed she didn't bring her husband like she normally does. When he arrived later during class, he hung back for a while watching. I always like to play the game in my head of "who does the guy belong to" and see if I can correctly guess who's husband had showed up. To my startle (or rather not) he belonged to my regular client.
This wouldn't be profound except I've met the guy probably about 15 times now. I've had conversations with this couple. At length. But without him being next to her for context, I would have sworn I'd never laid eyes on him.
This is just one of countless examples I could bring up. Sometimes people arrive and I recognize the dog and not the owner. AT ALL. These are people I've spent time with. One time I had two owners reversed in my mind. Like they had swapped dogs. I'd even fudged the dog context. Instead their body type PLUS the dog was the context and when two people with the same body types showed up at the same time, my brain found them interchangeable.
I have a theory however.
Face blindness is pretty much considered either Brain damage or hereditary. I know I was never dropped and I already know there's some odd genes present in me so we'll run with that a bit. The thought with it being hereditary is there is an actual physiological difference causing the impairment.
I hate the word impairment. Firstly.
here's the slippery slope. I CAN remember faces if I want to. If you asked me to remember a persons face I CAN do it. More and more I am reminding myself to do so, for careers sake. This would suggest the ability is in fact intact but my brain is just not running the program automatically.
Also I remember some people automatically and others my brain simply skips over. Its picking and chosing which faces are important to attend to, and thus, who it can remember at a later date. I can pass all the celebrity face blindness tests I should add.
So I took this one. Without famous faces.
Overall I scored decent. 85% was my lowest score, and on one of the tests I got 100%. So what the heck gives?
I got bored.
During the test I had to force myself to focus on the faces. Focusing on a task is what I do best. I am the exact opposite of ADD. Alot of aspies talk about overstimulation, I tend to be understimulated. This comes more from the giftedness and less from the aspergers, from my research into it. I can handle and process a very large (non social) information load. In fact I'd say I can handle pretty large social loads as well as long as its not direct interaction (for example, noisy crowds don't bother me) I also pick up on details others do not. Pretty much I'm an info junky in every sense of the word and if the enviroment isn't stimulating enough I get very bored. ( aka most of my childhood) In this case I found my eyes kept leaving the screen and my mind would wander in the middle of it. It was so unlike me that I was pretty startled. I am the test taker, the task doer, the finish things quick and now. I'm not the kind of person to wander off mentally in the middle of something.
Yet, as I suspected, this is what my mind does when confronted with human faces. It wanted nothing to do with the task at hand. I could feel my mind saying "c'mon theres gotta be other stimuli here thats way more important". And when I ignored its whining, it tried to leave the room anyway.
I remembered the asymmetrical eyes and the odd teeth easily and struggled with the rest. Pretty much my brain is an information junky and unless I find something entertaining, odd, or distinctly memorable, my mind decides its uniportant and that the texture of the carpet is more interesting. Basically, my brain decides that recognizing and remembering faces is not important and instead attends to the other cues as to who the person is.
This makes me wonder how much of the typical aspy eye contact issues are less about being uncomfortable and more about our brains saying its an unimportant behavior . Then as you age, society demands it and you feel awkward about it because it wasn't ingrained as a child. Your brain sees it as an "expensive" behavior and not worth the calories it burns. After all, people aren't the most interesting thing in the room, most of the time.
I will also note that while I have no issues with giving or recieving eye contact, I find if I'm tired or lazy that day, or don't find that person important (like som'one bothering me), I'll fall into not looking at people, like a habit. I'm not uncomfortable with it, its just too much effort for no real benefit to me as far as information gathering if I'm conserving energy. When taxed I'll spend my calories on other things that will reap more benefits. You aren't thinking about digestion when your running from a lion.
So pretty much my physiology is saying; Social interactions are not important unless its someone you find interesting. This seems to match up with my behavior in other, more tangible realms.
Fascinating, but nonetheless, it basically means that if I recognize you at the grocery store, your in a good place in my mind :)