Chapter 1. SampleProject

1.1 The Man Who Cannot Recognize Faces

Short Description

Lincoln is unable to recognize faces. Thirty years ago, a car accident produced isolated brain damage that left him 'face' blind. Lincoln reports that at times the inability to recognize those who should be familiar to you is scary. Because he is not blind, Lincoln reports that others have difficulty understanding his inability to recognize faces.

Long Description

Typically, we seem to think that to see is to understand. Lincoln's wife reports that at times it may seem that her husband recognizes her, but that is only because they have scheduled to meet at a specific place and time. Lincoln agrees. Sitting alone in the house together is quite different from locating his wife in a supermarket where there are a dozens of different female faces.

When they are projected on a screen, Lincoln has no difficulty recognizing common objects like a key, an apple, or a kitchen place setting. In contrast, the picture of a famous female face baffles him. In fact, he cannot tell whether the female is young or old. Only after given additional biographical information about the woman does he successfully guess who she is.

Faces do not all look the same to Lincoln. Rather, no face is recognizable. He sees individual features of faces, but fails to see the totality. His brain does not allow him to put the puzzle pieces together. Even when shown a picture of his own face, Lincoln does not recognize himself.

Lincoln's case reveals how our brains process faces. Each time we look at another person, a special facial recognition system is activated. Recognizing faces seems to be such a demanding and important part of our lives that an entire subsystem of the brain is devoted to the task. This area of the brain seems to play no role in our recognition of other objects.