Friday, 22 February 2013

Faceblindness

This is Jack Dee:

And this is Lee Mack:

You will notice that they look nothing alike, except in the general sense of having two eyes, in a line, with a nose below that and then a mouth a bit further down.

So how did I manage to watch QI for ages and think they were the same person?

And it's not because of their similar-sounding-but-reversed names, either.  I've done the same thing with Phill Jupitus and Johnny Vegas.  (I know, I know: I'll turn my fangirl card in at the door.)

Faceblindness - prosopagnosia to throw a medical term at it - is a reduced ability to recognise individual faces, and something that often comes up in relation to Aspergers.  I'm not honestly sure how much it affects me.  I frequently don't recognise someone if I meet them out of the context where I usually see them, or do recognise them but only slowly and with a degree of conscious effort, but I don't know whether that's actual faceblindness or related to trouble applying known data to new situations.  

My own faceblindness is fairly mild and intermittent.  Mostly I'm not too bad at identifying people, but every so often something will come up that reminds me that my IDing skills aren't entirely reliable.  As a kid, there was a lady who worked at two shops on different sides of town, and whenever Mum and I went into either shop, she was always there.  Yes, just like Dee and Mack, it was two completely different people who probably didn't even look that similar.  My mind just decided to connect the two for reasons best known to itself.

So if someone you know doesn't acknowledge you as you pass by, or calls you the wrong name, please try not to be offended - they might be snubbing you or just have a rubbish memory, or they might have a brain that plays tricks with the apparently simple business of recognising others.