Description: Have you ever heard of prosopagnosia? It is the term for something called face blindness or the inability to recognize people based on looking at their faces. It can be found among individuals on the Autism Spectrum, who may not process social cues as others do, or it can arise following a stroke. The incidence of prosopagnosia is thought to be in the neighbourhood of 2 to 3%. These days, however, we can also consider what we might call functional prosopagnosia when we look at the difficulties we have in recognizing people we know when their faces are masked due to social distancing and related Covid safety measures. While we all likely have a story or two about not recognizing a friend due to mask wearing or, perhaps, worrying that people will not think of us as our typically friendly selves when they cannot see our smile think about how you might design a study to assess the extent of functional prosopagnosia people may be experiencing these days. Once you have a design or two in mind have a look through the linked article to see what some Psychologists have tried in this regard.
Source: In an Era of Face Masks, We Are All a Little More Face Blind, Elizabeth Preston, Health, The New York Times
Date: August 31, 2020
When you see a friend out in the world and you recognize them what is it about them that makes it possible for you to do so? Recognition and in particular facial recognition is not a process that we are able to break down very easily. We might notice that our hockey playing friend has no front teeth, but we can still recognizer them with their mouth closed. Facial recognition is a complex process that we do almost instantly without breaking down the components. Do we do worse when others wear masks because the masks distract us? Or perhaps it is because seeing their mouth and smile (one hopes if it is a friend we encounter) is critical to recognition? Showing that people do not do well recognizing people wearing masks does not tell us what the challenge involves. Perhaps we just need a bit of practice? More research is needed and it is looking pike we will have the chance to do some as winter approaches and time in enclosed spaces increases.
Questions for Discussion:
- How did the researchers mentioned in the article assess facial recognition with and without masks?
- What might some additional variables in this area be that could be worthy of additional study?
- If the studies described in the linked article were conducted 6 months from now might you expect different results? If so, why?
References (Read Further):
Freud, E., Stajduhar, A., Rosenbaum, R. S., Avidan, G., & Ganel, T. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic masks the way people perceive faces. Link
Behrmann, M., & Avidan, G. (2005). Congenital prosopagnosia: face-blind from birth. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9(4), 180-187. Link
Barton, J. J., Albonico, A., Susilo, T., Duchaine, B., & Corrow, S. L. (2019). Object recognition in acquired and developmental prosopagnosia. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 36(1-2), 54-84. Link
Cook, R., & Biotti, F. (2016). Developmental prosopagnosia. Current Biology, 26(8), R312-R313. Link
Humphreys, K., Avidan, G., & Behrmann, M. (2007). A detailed investigation of facial expression processing in congenital prosopagnosia as compared to acquired prosopagnosia. Experimental Brain Research, 176(2), 356-373. Link
Shah, P. (2016). Identification, diagnosis and treatment of prosopagnosia. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 208(1), 94-95. Link
DeGutis, J. M., Chiu, C., Grosso, M. E., & Cohan, S. (2014). Face processing improvements in prosopagnosia: successes and failures over the last 50 years. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 8, 561. Link
And here is another complication: https://theconversation.com/face-masks-are-a-challenge-for-people-with-hearing-difficulties-137423