You’re not just a pretty face

Do you need glasses or just facial recognition genes? - photo by nonick on Flickr licensed under Creative CommonsI think I lack a facial recognition gene.  Yeah, I know nobody finds it easy to recognise people or remember their names. This is not what I’m talking about.

I can remember people’s names, I just can’t tell whether I’ve met them or not.  My recognition techniques therefore include getting into inane conversations with them and hoping that by talking about nothing for a while something they say rings a bell.

My lack of facial recognition skills is highlighted in social situations because I happen to look slightly odd and am therefore relatively easy to remember. Not odd-so-you-want-to-sidle-away-and-put-a-hand-loosely-in-the-vicinity-of-your-imaginary-sidearm-odd,  just odd enough so that most people remember me.  All my life I’ve wanted to blend well into a crowd but it was not to be.

Hanging around with me on a more permanent basis can be even more trying.  My partner claims that going to a movie is a seriously frustrating experience.

“So is that guy in the blue shirt the same guy that was in bed with heroine earlier?”


“Ok, well just tell me if I’m wrong?”

“Shut up!”

Yep, a change of clothing can be a real problem. If a shirt falls in the forest, and as a movie-goer I do not observe it, is it the same person?

Thank god for the conservatism of studio producers. If they didn’t insist on bankable stars like Julia Roberts etc I would be in real trouble – all you would-be actors out there, your enemy is not moneymen bankrolling films who insist on a bankable star, your real enemy is the facial-recognition challenged (FRCs).

And as for cast-of-thousands epics: forget it! I might just be able to identify Russell Crowe in ‘Gladiator’ (let’s face it he’s fairly distinctively ugly) but anyone with a bit part in it was toast.

To simulate the FRC experience for yourself try walking into a supermarket in an ethnic neighborhood (whatever you consider ethnic) or just take a look at an online crowd scene for some ethnic group different for your own. Now imagine you feel like that pretty much all of the time.

Oh you guys all look so SIMILAR - photo by notsogoodphotography on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons

If your current significant other doesn’t seem to like going to parties with you, but is always up for a meeting in a bar, it might not be that she’s an alcoholic, she just might be an FRC sufferer and prefer one-on-one dating to group dates.

If this is all beginning to sound depressingly familiar from your own experience you might be relieved to hear that there is evidence that facial recognition skills depend mostly on your genes and not your own memory issues. Admittedly it’ll probably turn out in a 100 years time, when we understand genetics better, that everything is genetic, launching a whole new century of speculation over free will, identity etc, but by then we’ll probably be manipulating the same genes at will anyway.

All is not lost however for FRC sufferers amongst us: we now have social media to level the playing field.

As social interactions become more and more electronic with the aid of Twitter, Facebook, online dating personals sites and, you can interact with people without even having to worry about their faces. I seem to have no trouble with the cartoonified faces cropping up these days in Twitter for example.

My helpful tip for FRC sufferers is therefore this: avoid going out socially for the next six months or so, get online, start texting like Gen Y, and find a decent home grocery delivery service. Everything will be fine.

Also, look out for my new iPhone augmented reality application, ‘Who The F**k Is That?’, where you point your iPhone camera subtly at people you don’t recognise and it looks them up (when I can get it approved by Apple under their app developer Terms and Conditions some time over the next decade).

P.S. For more personal relationship therapy for those challenged in the social skills department see my upcoming article ‘Why tall people in a crowded room suffer a hearing disadvantage but they’re not really deaf or stupid.’

This article filed under the following 'Interest' categories (click category for more) Hate pets, Self doubt

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Article posted by @Drivelry on May 9, 2010

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