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July 22, 2006

BehindTheMedspeak: Prosopagnosia


Say what?

I'd never heard of it before I read Nicholas Bakalar's fascinating article in the July 18 New York Times Science section.

Long story short: It means "face blindness" — if you have it you cannot remember people by their faces; they might as well all look alike.

It can result from a stroke, brain injury or be inherited as a congenital anomaly, in which case the rest of the brain works normally and compensates for the missing function.

How very curious, mysterious and altogether strange.

Here's the Times piece.

    Just Another Face in the Crowd, Indistinguishable Even if It’s Your Own

    Some people never forget a face. Heather Sellers never remembers one.

    She finds it almost impossible to recognize people simply by looking at them. She remembers the books she reads as well as anyone else, but movies and TV shows are impossible to follow because all of the actors' faces seem so similar. She can recall a name or a telephone number with ease, but she is unable to remember her own face well enough to pick it out in a group photograph.

    Dr. Sellers, a professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., has a disorder called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, and she has had it since birth. "I see faces that are human," she said, "but they all look more or less the same. It’s like looking at a bunch of golden retrievers: some may seem a little older or smaller or bigger, but essentially they all look alike."

    Face blindness can be a rare result of a stroke or a brain injury, but a study published in the August issue of The American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A is the first report of the prevalence of a congenital or developmental form of the disorder.

    The researchers say the phenomenon is much more common than previously believed: they found that 2.47 percent of 689 randomly selected students in Münster, Germany, had the disorder.

    Dr. Thomas Grüter, a co-author of the paper, said there were reasons to believe that the condition was equally common in other populations. "First," he said, "our population was not selected in terms of cognition deficits. And second, a study done by Harvard University with a different diagnostic approach yielded very similar figures."

    Dr. Grüter is himself prosopagnosic. His wife and co-author, Dr. Martina Grüter of the Institute for Human Genetics at the University of Münster, did not realize he was face blind until she had known him more than 20 years. The reason, she says, is he was so good at compensating for his deficits.

    "How do you recognize a face?" she asked. "For most people, this is a silly question. You just do. But people who have prosopagnosia can tell you exactly why they recognize a person. Thomas consciously looks for the details that others notice unconsciously."

    Dr. Thomas Grüter's experience in this respect is typical of people with face blindness. They develop alternate strategies for identifying people — they remember their clothes, mannerisms, gait, hairstyle or voice, and by using such techniques, many can compensate quite well.

    This may be one reason why cases of prosopagnosia have so rarely been reported — people simply do not know they have it. For face-blind people, adaptations like these are the only choice; there is no known cure.

    "Until very recently, not remembering faces was not considered to be a medical condition," Dr. Thomas Grüter said. "It was not even known to most physicians as such. The term 'prosopagnosia' was not taught to students of medicine or psychology." Most people "would consider it a bad habit," he said, "much like forgetting the names of people you are introduced to, or being unable to find your way around town."

    Dr. Martina Grüter said many considered her husband and his father, who is also face blind, to be simply "absent-minded professors" who occasionally may not recognize someone because they are preoccupied with higher thoughts.

    People with face blindness can typically understand facially expressed emotions — they know whether a face is happy or sad, angry or puzzled. They can detect subtle facial cues, determine gender and even agree with everyone else about which faces are attractive and which are not. In other words, they see the face clearly, they just do not know whose face they are looking at, and cannot remember it once they stop looking.

    Even familiar faces can be unrecognizable. Dr. Sellers, for example, said she could summon no picture in her mind of her own mother’s face.

    Dr. Sellers discovered her own problem only a year ago, at the age of 40. She was doing research for a novel involving a character with schizophrenia. "I kept coming across the term 'face recognition,' " she said. "It kept ringing a bell, although the phenomenon is quite different for people with schizophrenia. But once I had the term, I searched for it on the Internet. The minute I knew the concept of face blindness existed, I knew I had it."

    The phenomenon has been investigated with functional MRI brain scans, a form of imaging that shows in real time which parts of the brain are active, and it is known that a part of the brain called the fusiform gyrus responds much more strongly to faces than to other objects.

    Researchers have detected differing responses in this part of the brain among people with face blindness compared with normal subjects.

    "If you show a normal person two different faces in a row," said Bradley Duchaine, a lecturer in psychology at University College London, "their brain response is different with each one. With some prosopagnosics, you don't see this different response. It looks like something is not working in those areas of the brain involved with faces."

    Dr. Duchaine and Ken Nakayama, a psychology professor at Harvard, published a review of developmental prosopagnosia in the April issue of Current Opinion in Neurobiology. They run a Web site devoted to the disorder (www.faceblind.org).

    Face blindness differs from pervasive cognitive disorders like autism because it usually involves only one specific symptom. Still, face blindness is sometimes accompanied by other problems, especially difficulty in finding one’s way around or, for example, distinguishing one car or dog from another.

    Although the specific gene for the disorder has not been found, evidence is mounting that the trait is inherited. "All pedigrees that we've been able to establish so far were compatible with autosomal dominant inheritance," Dr. Thomas Grüter said.

    If this turns out to be true, it means that everyone with the disorder will have at least one affected parent, that men and women will be equally likely to inherit the trait, and that the risk for each child of an affected parent will be one in two.

    "But we haven't found the gene, yet," Dr. Grüter said, "so we can't be 100 percent sure."


Here is a link to a test of your face recognition ablities.

Here is a link to the abstract of the article published in the August, 2006 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

July 22, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Hands-Free Dual-Light-Source Head-Mounted Flashlight


From the website:

    Hands-Free Flashlight

    Light exactly where you need it

    Keep both hands free for electrical jobs, crafts, car repairs, even reading in bed.

    Worn like glasses, the light follows every move of your head.

    Helps eliminate eye strain with two light sources for extra brightness.

    Made of durable man-made materials.

    Requires 2 AA batteries (not included).

    7-5/8"W x 2"H.


Beam me up.


July 22, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

hellodeo — 'Got a webcam? Say hello with video!'


Q: Is this a video recorder or a video player?

A: Yes.

Too bad I don't have a webcam — but you do.

So say hello, already.

[via Shawn Lea and everythingandnothing.com]

July 22, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Angled Deck Hanger


From the website:

    Angled Deck Hanger

    Perk up your deck with sweet-smelling plants and flowers.

    Angled hanger keeps messy pots off your wooden deck or porch.

    Attaches easily to the top rail (for 4"-6"W rails) without tools.

    A great way to hang birdfeeders, birdbaths, and birdhouses too!

    Heavy enameled steel.



I envision many other potential uses for this device, above and beyond the hanging plant space.

How about your stinky running shoes?

Or the rug the kitty messed up?




$5.99 (plant not included).

July 22, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Cat of Steel


As any fool can plainly see my cat Humphrey is not at all troubled by the presence of a bag of new Mini-Doritos Kryptonite, which I espied at my 7-11 earlier today and purchased in order to conduct the experiment whose findings are now being reported in this post, not that those results are any surprise to those of you familiar with the exploits of my supercat,


able to walk a human treadmill one cat's paw-sized step at a time, much to the amazement and delight of hundreds of people from all over our blue planet who've watched mesmerized as


Humphrey struts his stuff.

July 22, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Voice-Activated Remote Control — "Just say 'change the channel' and the remote does it"


Ground control to Major Tom.

From the website:

    InVoca™ Voice-Activated TV Remote Control

    The InVoca voice-activated TV remote control is a hands-free wonder!

    Tell your TV what to do... without lifting a single finger!

    This remarkable remote changes the channels, controls volume and more with just the sound of your voice.

    When you talk — "Change channels"; "Lower volume"; "Record" — this remote listens.

    It's a perfect solution for anyone who has difficulty seeing or dealing with small buttons.

    Order your InVoca voice-activated remote control today and take command of your TV!

    • Use the InVoca voice-activated remote control for all your audio-video electronics.

    • Simply speak into the universal remote to command your TV, VCR, DVD, cable and satellite with the sound of your voice.

    • It's easy to set up and accepts up to 54 voice commands!

    • You can even perform multi-step functions with a single command — e.g., switch the TV to channel 3 and press "play" on the VCR all at once.

    • Everyone in your family will love using the InVoca voice-activated TV remote control.

    • The InVoca voice-activated remote control recognizes up to four voices.

    • It remembers your favorite stations for added convenience.

    • Includes rechargeable batteries and charging base.

    • An InVoca voice-activated TV remote control makes a great gift!

    • This is a couch potato's dream! When you talk, the TV listens! And you'll never have to scramble and look for the remote again!

    • Order yours today!


Res ipsa loquitur — after a fashion.



July 22, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'Vatican Museums Seek Modern Art': I 'would like very much to have a Picasso' — Francesco Buranelli, director of the Vatican Museums


Not a joke, not cribbed from The Onion but, rather, direct quotations from this past Tuesday's New York Times "Arts, Briefly" column by Lawrence Van Gelder.

Excuse me, but isn't this the same group that a few centuries ago had issues with those who viewed the nature of reality a bit differently from the conventional thinking?

I guess things do change if you allow enough time.

Galileo, call your office: your solar system model's ready for pickup.

July 22, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Grilling Kebabs For Dummies'


Turns out this book is just one of a whole slew of Dummies tomes on culinary subjects.

But wait — there's more!

In addition to the 120-page book containing 25 "mouthwatering" recipes you will receive, at absolutely no additional charge:

1) Six (6) non-stick skewers

2) One (1) natural bristle basting brush

$23.99 at Amazon.

Call me when dinner's ready.

July 22, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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