‘Face blindness’ – You saw it here first!

I’m proud of this blog, although I’m generally not in the habit of bragging about it. But if you will permit me a bit of immodest pride, I’ll go for it: “Focus On Your Vision” scooped the venerable TV newsmagazine “60 Minutes!”

On March 18, “60 Minutes” ran a report about the condition known as “face blindness,” which renders sufferers unable to recognize the faces of people they’ve known for years, including family members—and, amazingly, even their own faces. It is a little-understood and fascinating condition, and I’m proud to say that this blog reported on it way back in November 2010.

OK, enough bragging. “Focus On Your Vision” is not competing with “60 Minutes,” and, to be frank, neither one of us actually “broke” the story about this condition, which was first identified in the 1940s, although it is still not well understood.

The “60 Minutes” report on the condition, which is also called ‘prosopagnosia,’ is absolutely fascinating, and includes interviews with several people with the condition, including neurologist Oliver Sacks, who was featured in my 2010 post.

Dr. Sacks told reporter Leslie Stahl that his “face blindness” is so severe that he has even apologized to his own reflection when he could not recognize it!

“I could see that it was a large, clumsy man with a beard,” he says, of the person in the mirror. “Now, I’ve now found a way of dealing with this. I have one special feature. I have rather large ears. If the large, clumsy man with a beard has extra-large ears, it’s probably me.”

In the report, you’ll also meet Jennifer Jarett, who “suffers” from the converse condition—she literally never forgets a face – even those of people, like waiters, with whom she had only the briefest of encounters. She can’t, in fact, forget them even if she wants to.

“I don’t even know how to get rid of people,” Jennifer says.

Amazingly, she can recognize the faces of people whose faces look nothing like they did when she encountered them either in person or in photos, movies or on TV. As an example, she could identify a photo of a six-year-old boy as legendary “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace.

She has no idea how she does it.

“If someone gets a haircut you can still recognize them. It’s still the same face to me. It’s just the adult version,” she says. (Are you a “super-recognizer?”— you can find out here by taking a test put together by the “60 Minutes” folks.)

The inability to forget a face presents some interesting challenges, but nothing like those encountered every day by people who cannot recognize loved ones, friends or even themselves. There is no treatment available for prosopagnosia, but promising research is underway on several fronts to better understand and perhaps someday cure it — you’ll gain great insight into that research by watching the piece.

Thank you, “60 Minutes” for a great report!


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