Last year we took the Famous Faces test to demonstrate how faceblindness works. Famous Faces is somewhat flawed because if you aren’t familiar with most of the celebrities in the test, it gives a less than accurate measure of how good you are recognizing faces.
This week’s test is a better gauge of faceblindness or prosopagnosia. The Matching Faces in Photographs test at Test My Brain is being used by researchers to understand the difference between how we recognize standardized versions of faces under ideal conditions versus how we recognize faces in changing conditions. For example, if you recognize your chemistry professor by his beard and glasses and the fact that you generally encounter him in the chem lab building, you may or may not recognize him at the beach in swim trunks and baseball cap, especially if he’s clean-shaven and not wearing his glasses.
Often, people with prosopagnosia rely on hairstyle, facial hair, glasses, voice, mannerisms, gait, or other “auxiliary” features to identify friends and acquaintances. Some people are mildly faceblind, meaning they recognize close friends and family quite easily but struggle with quickly identifying acquaintances if we meet them “out of context.” Others have difficulty recognizing everyone, even close family members, and may not recognize their own reflection right away. Continue reading Taking the Matching Faces Test→
This week I took the Famous Faces, which tests for prosopagnosia or faceblindness.
Prosopagnosia, commonly known as faceblindness or facial agnosia, is an impairment in the ability to recognize faces. Although there isn’t a lot of research to support a conclusive link between ASD and prosopagnosia, some degree of faceblindness seems to be common in people with Asperger’s.
Some of the signs of prosopagnosia:
Failure to recognize a friend or family member, especially when you encounter them unexpectedly
Tendency to remember or recognize people based on their hairstyle, gait, voice or other defining non-facial feature
Relying features like hair style/color, facial hair or eyeglasses to recognize people you know well
Failure to recognize people out of context
Failure to recognize yourself in the mirror or in photos
I have all of these except the last one. If my daughter changes her hairstyle or I haven’t seen her in a while, I won’t recognize her right away. I locate my husband in a crowded place by the way he walks, what he’s wearing or his voice.
I rarely recognize people out of context and have actually said to more than one person, “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you out of context.” And that was before I knew anything about faceblindness.
For now, I’ll leave the background on faceblindness short because in researching this test, I found enough information for at least one more post.
I’ve seen three different types of tests that “measure” prosopagnosia. One is a famous faces test which removes hair and other identifying features from the faces of famous people, requiring you to identity them by facial features alone.
Another type of test shows a series of faces and asks you to identify which of them belong to a set of 20 faces viewed at the start of the test. I took one online (sadly it’s no longer available) and came out in the bottom 20% of scores. My poor working memory probably didn’t help.
Finally, there is a type of test that digitally alters a face and asks you identify what is “wrong” with the face or which face among three (1 altered and 2 not) is different. This measures your ability to recognize “normal” vs. “abnormal” facial structure, a task that is easier for people who aren’t faceblind.
For example, can you tell at a glance what is wrong with two of the three faces below (answer in the caption):
All of these tests obviously have flaws. A better test might be a series of questions based on the list of prosopagnosia traits, but that doesn’t seem to exist. There is a visual test that is supposed to be accurate at diagnosing prosopagnosia but it’s more time-consuming–we can take that one if folks are interested.
Taking the Test
You can take the Famous Faces test at Test My Brain. Choose it from the list of available tests, agree to the terms and answer the short demographic survey. There are 20 celebrities to identify–it took me about 10 minutes to finish but some of the faces I needed to study for a while, trying to picture them with varying hairstyles, before I could come up with a guess.
Scoring the Test
I did well, but my results may have been influenced by the fact that I’ve taken this test before.
The first time I took Famous Faces, I thought George Clooney was Sean Connery and I mistook Nicole Kidman for Rosie O’Donnell. This time around I got George Clooney right but still missed Nicole Kidman. I also got Angelina Jolie, David Beckham, Fred Astaire, John F Kennedy Jr, Uma Thurman and Susan Sarandon wrong. If the photos had included hair I probably would have missed Uma Thurman, Nicole Kidman (because most blonde white actresses look alike to me) and David Beckham (unless his tattooed torso was included!).
The Bottom Line
The reliability of using famous faces tests to actually diagnose prosopagnosia is poor, but a low score may be indicative of some degree of faceblindness. If there’s enough interest, I’ll hunt down and do a write up on a more reliable test that’s used for clinical diagnosis of prosopagnosia.