Thursday, May 13, 2010

Face Recognition

I never recognize people. I'm just really bad at it. At cons people think I'm snubbing them, when in truth I may have wonderful feelings about them; I just can't connect those feelings to the visual image of their faces. One of these days I'm going to fail to recognize one of my children and there's going to be real trouble.

Which makes it completely astonishing that I scored well on the BBC's test of face recognition. My score for remembering faces in the test was 87%, compared to an average of 92%, and my memory for remembering when I saw them was actually above average: 76% compared to 68%. I cannot explain this. The test is offered as a part of a website on sleep, which I had accessed to see the latest research on sleep and memory. (Summary: Sleep loss does not affect basic facial recognition, but it does affect your ability to know when you saw people last.) To take the test, go to

Perhaps photos of people register with me better than real people -- an unsettling thought. Or perhaps the test is not a good simulation of real life because the photos don't change their clothes or hair styles from one part of the test to another. After all, I'm the person who did not recognize Sigourney Weaver in GALAXY QUEST until the credits rolled. She'd gone blond.

Or maybe I just need to pay better attention to three-dimensional faces.


Frank Böhmert said...

After all, I'm the person who did not recognize Sigourney Weaver in GALAXY QUEST until the credits rolled. She'd gone blond.

Well that's cute.

ClothDragon said...

I have similar problems with people. I also tend to compartmentalize them. Certain faces belong in certain buildings. I'll have trouble recognizing old ex-coworkers at the grocery store, or fellow moms club members on the disc golf course, especially if they don't have their children to help me put them in context. Anyone from anywhere else in the dmv line....

Things like that. I'm sure I've insulted many people, staring at them in confusion when they start talking to me. I've been practicing talking to anyone and letting them lead the conversation so even if I don't remember them, I'm not insulting them with my forgetfulness. Unfortunately that probably just adds a whole new list of people who think they know me that I won't remember.

Nancy Kress said...

Not only that, ClothDragon, but if you pretend you recognize people -- and I do -- then they start conversations that show they really know you well, you're in worse trouble than before. "I was just flummoxed by what Bob said at dinner the last time I saw you!" What Bob? What dinner? Am I supposed to be flummoxed too?