I’ve mentioned before that I am rather significantly face blind; I find it very difficult to recognize faces, even my own, or those of people I know well. The July issue of The American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A has published a new study about the disorder, finding that it is inherited in 1 of 40 people (and autosomal dominant, affecting men and womean equally and passed down from parents to children if just one defective gene is transmitted), and there’s a New York Times article about it that has a fun link where you can test yourself – you may be surprised!
Dr. [Heather] Sellers, a professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., has a disorder called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, and she has had it since birth. “I see faces that are human,” she said, “but they all look more or less the same. It’s like looking at a bunch of golden retrievers: some may seem a little older or smaller or bigger, but essentially they all look alike.”…
The researchers say the phenomenon is much more common than previously believed: they found that 2.47 percent of 689 randomly selected students in Münster, Germany, had the disorder…
Dr. Grüter is himself prosopagnosic. His wife and co-author, Dr. Martina Grüter of the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Münster, did not realize he was face blind until she had known him more than 20 years. The reason, she says, is he was so good at compensating for his deficits.
…but the important thing is that the article in The New York Times includes a link to test yourself for face blindness! There are two different tests, both of which ask you to recognize faces without the benefit of ears or the major facial hair.
On one of the tests (the ‘Famous Faces’ test), I scored a pathetic 9 faces recognized out of 30, or 30%, where the average normal score is 85%! Plus, I was slow: it took me 30 to 45 minutes to complete, where Larry Helmerich didn’t need more than a few minutes, and John Blackburn literally finished in a single minute; their scores are shown below.
Test yourself for face-blindness (and tell me your score!)
Read the New York Times article
Read the abstract of the report in July issue of The American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A
“It’s more fun to compete!”
Famous Faces Test: 100% - John Blackburn (30/30 faces, 1 minute) 100% - Chris Gibson 100% - Sylvia Chappell, my wife (30/30 faces) 97% - Larry Helmerich (29/30 faces) 97% - Craig Burt, one of my sister's sons (29/30 faces) 97% - Sean Chappell, my son (28/29 faces) 95% - Bill Standley 93% - Stephen Newell 93% - Jeff Lorenzini (27/29 faces) 93% - Ravi Govil 90% - Curt Welch 90% - Allen Akin 90% - Michael Tague 88% - Mathieu Duval (21/24 faces) 87% - Randi (Larry and Sally Helmerich's daughter) 85% - NORMAL AVERAGE ... 79% - Richard Lorentz (23/29 faces) 76% - Chris Burt, one of my sister's sons 75% - Ron Traver 72% - Leah Newell ... 60% - Sally Helmerich, Larry's wife 60% - Chris Ravenscroft (18/30 faces) 59% - Tom Harvey 57% - Jan Burt, my sister (12/21 faces) 5x% - Milt Brackmann, my mother's brother 52% - Pat Hilligoss, my father's sister (12/23 faces) ... 45% - Marilyn Chappell, my mother (9/20 faces) 43% - Jean Kuhne, my mother's brother Ron's daughter ... 32% - Ruth Gerken, my mother's brother Ron's daughter 30% - Tom Chappell (9/30 faces, 30-45 minutes) Old-New Faces Test: 96% - Sean Chappell (19/20 target, 29/30 nontarget) 96% - Ravi Govil (19/20 target, 29/30 nontarget) 94% - Bill Standley (20/20 target, 27/30 nontarget) 92% - John Blackburn (16/20 target, 30/30 nontarget, 2 minutes) 90% - Leah Newell (17/20 target, 28/30 nontarget) 88% - Curt Welch (20/20 target, 24/30 nontarget) 86% - Chris Gibson (18/20 target, 25/30 nontarget) 85% - NORMAL AVERAGE 82% - Larry Helmerich 82% - Jeff Lorenzini (17/20 target, 24/30 nontarget) 82% - Michael Tague 80% - Allen Akin 78% - Chris Ravenscroft (18/20 target, 21/30 nontarget) 78% - Tom Chappell (15/20 target, 24/30 nontarget) 72% - Tom Harvey 70% - Chris Burt (16/20 target, 19/30 nontarget) [one of my sister's sons] The Online Cambridge Face Memory Test: [An improved version of the older Old-New Faces test that varies head angle and lighting, which wasn't publicly available back when this piece first appeared] 85% - Linda Wallace, my mother's sister Marce's daughter ... 52% - Ruth Gerken, my mother's brother Ron's daughter
Low Scorers: Note that the seven lowest scorers on the Famous Faces test are all relatives of mine.
Sally Helmerich (FF: 60%) says, “I recognize people by their voices.” Before Chris Ravenscroft (FF: 60%) knew this, he said the exact same thing! Apparently, by the time that you’ve gotten down to 60% on the Famous Faces test, you’ve got an appreciable deficit.
Tom Harvey writes: “On the famous faces test, I was slightly screwed up by some previous insider knowledge (Jeff mentioning XXX being in the test). I also found myself declaring unfamiliarity with certain people that I’d watched entire movies that they were in (XXX, XXX) or people that are generally ubiquitous even to celebrity-ignorers such as myself (XXX). I could attempt to justify this, but maybe my score should have been lower.”
The Famous Faces test was insanely difficult for me, as my score (FF: 30%) attests. I’d tell you some of the mistakes I made, and you’d howl, but it would keep you from being able to take the test.
On the Old-New Faces test, I felt as if I were cueing on things like how the photographs were lit, rather than genuinely recognizing or not recognizing the faces. I later wrote to the researchers, recommending that they use different photos of the same subjects, instead of always using the same photos for the same subjects, and they said that indeed, they do that now in their non-public lab tests, because they found that people who had a good visual memory but who had poor facial recognition were able to “cheat” the test. [Edit: that improved test, the Online Cambridge Face Memory Test, has now replaced the Old-New Faces test on the web site, but I haven’t yet gone back and tried it.]
High Scorers: On the Famous Faces test, my wife Sylvia got 100%, our son Sean and my sister Jan’s son Craig both got 97%, while on the Old-New test, Sean has the top score of 96%.
Sylvia (FF: 100%) has always been Scary Good at recognizing faces, especially out of context, which I can never, ever do.
John Blackburn (FF: 100%, Old-New: 92%) has near-perfect pitch, and yet is also great at recognizing faces!
I once sat at a table with Bill Standley (FF: 95%, Old-New: 94%) and about 9 other co-workers. We had all been asked to bring in baby pictures of ourselves, and they were shuffled up, and then the game was to match up the babies to the adults. They all looked like a bunch of golden retrievers to me, but Bill Standley just whipped through those pictures, 100%, like the babies were sitting there at the table next to him.