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See Inside August/September 2007

Forgetting Faces

They do not recognize friends or family members or even themselves in a mirror. Researchers have recently discovered that an astounding 2 to 3 percent of the population may be effectively blind to faces

Once, in broad daylight, Bill Choisser encountered his mother on a sidewalk in a local shopping district. He walked toward her and passed her within two feet. He said nothing as he ambled by--an omission for which his mother has never forgiven him, or so he writes in his online book, Face Blind! Choisser meant no ill will toward his mother, however; he simply did not recognize the woman who raised him.

Many people have trouble remembering names. Choisser cannot remember faces, a condition known as prosopagnosia. People like Choisser can see faces, but they cannot keep in mind what particular people look like. The fact that all visages contain basic features such as a nose, mouth and eyes makes every face appear essentially the same to them, like so many stones paving a gravel driveway. As a result, features hold just about as much fascination for them as ridges on a rock.

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