Sparrow Rose Jones (sparrowrose) wrote in faceblind,
Sparrow Rose Jones

Jane Goodall and prosopagnosia

I'm preparing for a presentation I'm making next week in speech class. We were told to select a topic we already had knowledge about so I chose prosopagnosia. I wanted to include the information that Jane Goodall has face-blindness but I wanted an authoritative source so I did a little digging and found that she, herself, reveals it in her autobiography. I just got back from the library where I photocopied the pages where she discusses her prosopagnosia and thought others in this community might be interested in reading the passage.

In the course of my travels, one thing detracts from my enjoyment of meeting people. I suffer from an embarrassing, curiously humbling neurological condition called prosopagnosia, which, translated, means I have problems in face recognition. I used to think it was due to some mental laziness, and I tried desperately to memorize the faces of people I met so that, if I saw them the next day, I would recognize them. I had no trouble with those who had obvious physical characteristics -- unusual bone structure, beaky nose, extreme beauty or the opposite. But with other faces I failed, miserably. Sometimes I knew that people were upset when I did not immediately recognize them -- certainly I was. And because I was embarrassed, I kept it to myself.

Quite by chance, when talking to a friend recently, I found that he suffered from the same problem. I could not believe it. Then I discovered my own sister, Judy, knew similar embarrassment. Perhaps others did, also. I wrote to the well-known neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. Had he ever heard of such an unusual condition? Not only had he heard of it -- he suffered from it himself! And his situation was far more extreme than mine. He sent me a paper, titled "Developmental memory impairment: faces and patterns," by Christine Temple.

Even now that I know I need not feel guilty, it is still difficult to know how to cope -- I can hardly go 'round telling everyone I meet that I probably won't know them from Adam the next time I see them! Or maybe I should? It is humiliating, because most people simply think I'm making an elaborate excuse for my failure to recognize them and that, obviously, I don't really care about them at all -- so they are hurt. I have to cope as best I can -- usually by pretending to recognize everyone! And while that can have its awkward moments too, it's not nearly as bad as the other way around.

pp. xiii-xiv

Goodall, Jane & Berman, Phillip L. (1999). Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. New York: Warner Books, Inc.
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