Facial recognition challenges

Recently I have become aware that I am facially-challenged.

Whenever we watch movies, Albert goes, “That’s so-and-so actor from so-and-so movie!” and I go, “Huh? How can you tell?”

I always thought Albert had an exceptional quality, but lately I have been a little bit concerned. Today I was up in the youth center setting up when a person came over to help. He didn’t look familiar at all but when I got his name I realized that he is a well-known volunteer, someone I have communicated with somewhat regularly and even had an extended conversation at an event!

I was a bit horrified at my inability to recognize him. It was coupled with the fact that lately our family has been watching movies and I keep going, “Who is that again?’ People look the same to me and it is horribly confusing to try to keep track of characters when they look different in every scene and everyone looks the same!

Ironically, when I see people’s names in print, I usually have a pretty easy time remembering them. People will ask me who wrote a book and if I have read it, I often remember the author’s name. In school, I would write out my notes and remember the information based on where it was written on the page.

But when it comes to faces, I am definitely challenged. I have realized that I tend to remember visual cues, such as hair or clothing. This problematic trying to remember people, as they seem to have a tendency to change their hairstyles and their clothing.

Our Ministry Director team for months spent time memorizing our church directory so that we could be better at greeting people. I discovered I am pretty good at memorizing names (Alex and I won almost every session), but when I met people in person, I could never pair the name with the face. It was a lot easier remembering the names based on where the photo was located on the page. When they passed out index cards with one photo on each card, I would go, “Uh oh.” Despite these efforts at memorization, I would see the person on Sunday and would have no idea who they were.

So today I did a bit of poking online and discovered there is an assessment online to determine how good you are at recognizing faces. It gives you faces of famous people and scores you based on how correctly you identified the people you were familiar with. Here are my results:

48% recognition is a bit dismal, especially when the average is 85%.

Strangely, I felt a lot better after doing this assessment. It made me realize that I really do have difficulty recognizing faces. I missed the faces of people like Brad Pitt, John F. Kennedy, Patrick Stewart (Jean Luc Picard on Star Trek, a show we watched for years), and many others. One person I can never recognize in any pictures is Madonna. Now I realize it is because she is always changing her hair, clothes and accessories. Forget even trying to recognize Lady Gaga. I would probably walk past her and have no clue.

What is interesting is how the mind works. Although I am terrible with faces, why is it when I see letters printed out I can remember names? I met a couple today at our Newcomer’s BBQ. Looking at the first name of the husband and the first name of the wife on their nametags, I instantly knew their last name even though I had never even met them. It was because I saw their names on an email.

Albert took the test too. He got a 93% correct.

God’s creation, the human mind — complex, wonderful, and incredibly curious!


A Yee

Angela Yee is a professional designer (graphic design, stage design, interior design — angelayeedesign.com) and teaches leadership skills at strategysketchnotes.com.

4 comments to “Facial recognition challenges”

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  1. Corrie - October 1, 2012

    So interesting! I got 76%. I missed Patrick Stewart, too – don’t know if I’ve seen him smile quite like that in the show! 🙂

  2. A Yee

    A Yee - October 2, 2012

    That’s true — I suppose that is quite unusual to see him smiling! 🙂

  3. Leslie - October 19, 2012

    Hey, I got 93% too, like Albert! Although I think I was biased by the comment about Patrick Stewart so maybe you can’t count that one. So not sure what my final score would have been.

    Madonna I recognized instantly. You can tell by her slightly protruding front teeth with a small gap in between. Other than that, I can’t recognize her that well. I think she has a very symmetrical, yet very generic face, the type that a student artist might draw when they are first learning to draw faces.

  4. A Yee

    A Yee - October 20, 2012

    Wow, I’m amazed you noticed all that stuff about Madonna. Never even saw that! Pretty amazing you got such a high score.

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