Monthly Archives: November 2011

YouTube video about prosopagnosia with an interview with Dr Ashok Jansari, and David who has acquired prosopagnosia

Dr Ashok Jansari is one of the researchers involved with the study of superrecognizers that is currently happening in London, and runs till early January 2012, and is seeking participants who believe that they might be super-recognizers. Dr Jansari studies both extremes of face memory ability. I love his suit.

In this video a British man with acquired prosopagnosia, David Bromley, is interviewed by the rather cute English science television host Dr Michael Mosley. David generously explains what it is like to be suddenly forced to manage in life without any face memory. To compensate David has become very attentive to details of a person’s appearance other than the face.

I’ve just discovered a resource for people who have an isolated problem of getting lost or inability to orient in their physical environment

While I was looking at online resources for people who have prosopagnosia, or a disability in recognizing faces, I came across what looks like an important resource for people who have another isolated disability which is sometimes associated with prosopagnosia,  an inability to orient in a physical environment. The title of this website is “Developmental topographical disorientation: a lifelong condition”. The term “developmental” denotes that this is a condition that those affected naturally and probably genetically are destined to develop. Most developmental brain-based conditions manifest in early childhood. Prosopagnosia, synaesthesia and autism are some examples of neurodevelopmental conditions. I guess there is probably an acquired, non-developmental version of this disorientation condition that can be caused by brain damage or stroke. I also guess that developmental topographical disorientation would be a different condition to the type of disorientation that results from altered states of consciousness or from an acquired type of visual agnosia that results from dementia or Benson’s syndrome. The website that I’ve discovered appears to be run by two highly qualified academics and researchers who work in universities in Canada who appear to be experts in this condition: Assistant Professor Giuseppe Iaria and Professor Jason J S Barton.

I think developmental topographical disorientation would have to be the same type of problem that the famous neurologist, writer and prosopagnosic Dr Oliver Sacks experiences and has written about in his book The Mind’s Eye and in his interesting article about prosopagnosia which was published in the New Yorker magazine. The scientific study of this type of problem is clearly in it’s infancy, and one problem that is often a feature of new areas of academic inquiry is a lack of standardization of the terminology. I’m really not sure which is the proper term for this orientation problem, or whether there are genuinely different varieties of this problem which have their own terms. Iaria and Barton use the term “developmental topographical disorientation”, Sacks used the term “topographical agnosia” and Sacks wrote that Dr D. Frank Benson, who was the first person to formally describe Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy used the term “environmental agnosia” to describe patients who get lost in their own neighbourhoods or homes, and I’ve come across the term “agnosia for scenes” which seems to be the same type of thing. I’ve read about people who can’t recognize landcapes or scenes, and also people who can’t recognize specific landmarks, which seem to be different visual disabilities. It’s all very confusing, and I hope some clarity and standardization in this area of research will become clear, for the sake of the people who experience these issues.

I’m interested in this stuff not because I have any problems in orienting, but because I experience one type of synaesthesia in which visual memories of scenes of landscapes, some of them very old memories, are the “concurrents” or additional synaesthesia experiences triggered by thinking about specific concepts or performing very specific fine-motor household chores. I have fully described these types of synaesthesia experiences, which to my knowledge have never before been scientifically described, in a number of different posts at this blog (click on the applicable tags to find them). My guess is that my ability to orient using memories of scenes should be superior, or the opposite of topographical disorientation for a number of reasons. There seems to be a link between prosopagnosia and topographical disorientation, and I’m the opposite of a prosopagnosic in that I’ve attained some perfect scores in some tests of face recognition and thus could be a super-recognizer, and so if face and scene recognition are linked I should also have great scene recognition. I also have synaesthesia that involves visual memories of scenes, and according to research about syneasthesia, superior ability is often found in synaesthetes in the cognitive functions which are involved with their synesthesia. I also believe that an awareness of scenes and a sense of place has an unusual prominence in the way that I think and experience life. This website that I’ve just discovered links to some tests of orientation ability, so I hope I will be able to find some more spare time to have a go at these tests to see whether my prediction about my ability in this area might be true.

One last comment about the Developmental topographical disorientation website; I wonder if it is only a coincidence that two of the artworks displayed at this website, which both illustrate the concept of spatial landscapes and orienting, are the creations of two synaesthete artists – David Hockney and Vincent van Gogh? I wonder, do synaesthete artists display a more developed sense of space and place? How could one research this question in an objective manner? And what kind of art would people who have topographical disorientation create? Could this condition be diagnosed through art or drawing tests?

Developmental topographical disorientation: a lifelong condition

Super-recognizer study being conducted at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, and you are invited!

(edit – as far as I know this experiment ended in January 2012. If you are interested in super-recognizers it might still be worth a look at the link given below.)

Cognitive neuroscience researchers from the University of East London including Dr Ashok Jansari are apparently inviting anyone who suspects that they might be a super-recognizer (and can get to London) to participate in a scientific study. I live in Australia, so unfortunately I can’t participate in this study myself and I can’t personally comment much about this study beyond what anyone can read at the website for the study, but it looks to me like this is a genuine thing and I’m very interested to know what these researchers might find as a result of their study.

I’m spitting chips because it looks as though they might be using the Before They Were Famous test in this study, and I’ve been trying since September last year to gain access to this study to find out for certain whether I fall into the category of super-recognizer. It’s a heck of a long distance from Western Australia to London. If it weren’t so far I’d be there in a flash!

If you suspect that you might have below-average ability in face recognition, or prosopagnosia, maybe this live, in-person study in London might be worth looking into, I’m not sure. A good alternative might be looking at the website which is run by prosopagnosia researchers at Harvard University and Univesity College in London, and maybe trying a free online test of face memory, and contacting the people at if you identify a problem.

Superrecognizers (study in London)

Tammet edited out

This is just a short note to let my readers know that I have edited my first ever post in this blog to remove references to the famous writer of biographies, celebrity savant, language genius and neurological curiousity Daniel Tammet. I had been comparing my own unsual experience with The Strange Phenomenon and synaesthesia and other characteristics with Mr Tammet’s documented characteristics, not least because he and I are both synaesthetes and apparently in possession of some unusual abilities, but after doing some reading of the book Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer and related online dicussions, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t trust any aspect of the Tammet legend, regardless of what some researchers might claim. There are just so many different aspects of his own story that have been called into question, by so many different people, that I have a strong feeling that something just isn’t right, so it’s adios, auf Wiedersehen, gxis revido, au revoir and hasta la vista baby to Mr Daniel Tammet!

For me one of the most intriguing areas of inconsistency in the many reports about Daniel Tammet (born Daniel Corney) are the conflicting reports about his ability to recognize faces, with one British researcher identifying Tammet as impaired in this respect, but two old reports in tabloid British newspapers which appear to have been based on the same sensationalist press release claiming that Tammet never forgets a face! To add to the mystery, Tammet was once a competitior in the World Memory Championships in London, and apparently did extremely well in a memory competition that involves putting names to faces. Commonsense tells me that one can easily simulate having a disability when tested, but performing at a superior level is not such an easy thing to pretend to do.

Links to sources of information about Daniel Tammet:!%3A+Fit+at+age3+turns+Dan+into+whiz+who+can+add+like+a…-a0127912950

No idea who she is, but I know she’s trouble.

Tonight I was in the midst of a small crowd in an area that isn’t my immediate neighbourhood, but still within a geographical area where I can expect to bump into people from my present and past. I looked around the crowd as I do, probably more than most, and I saw no faces that felt familiar, till I looked across the way, and there was that feeling of “bad blood”. I knew an enemy was in the room. I had no idea who she was, or where it was that we had become enemies, and I disputed this emotion that I felt most definitely. I don’t have that many enemies. I’m not a really bad person, so what’s this emotion about? But that dark cloud didn’t blow away, so I took a second look. Nothing’s coming. Still curious, I later took a third look. It had been clear from the start that this was a face that felt familiar. Then the penny dropped. This was a person who had either through ignorance or laziness done the wrong thing by one of our kids, and I’d refused to accept this, and I’d made an appropriate response, and in doing so I had made an enemy. I felt a sense of relief when I finally pulled from the depths of my conscious mind the full story about that face, because I don’t feel that I’ve done a lot wrong, even though it isn’t a nice thing to glance across a room and feel the dull grey threat of ill feelings.

The thing that I find interesting about this social triviality is the order in which different elements of my mind processed this real-life face recognition task, and the central role of emotions in this task. Basic visual face recognition must have come first, which then retrieved the emotional story about that face so rapidly that I experienced that enemy-in-the-room feeling as inseperable from the feeling of face familiarity. Conscious awareness of the narrative story associated with that face took a very long time to be pulled out of my memory. Her name, her social position, the place that I knew her from, the details of the story were all elements of my memory of her that I guess were stored in some part of my brain that isn’t very well connected to the parts of my brain that processed the visual and emotional stuff, which appear to be both intimately connected. It is no surprise to me at all that the sense of vision and the emotions appear to be closely connected in my mind, as I’m well aware of the surprising emotional impact that seeing things can have. Perhaps this is true of everybody. I don’t know, but I do have a strong suspicion that emotions and thinking about personalities play a part or are closely associated with face recognition, and I’ll bet this is reflected in the structure of the brain. I explored this idea in my post titled “Reflections on The Strange Phenomenon, how I gunned the CFMT, letter personification in advertising and clue to a possible cure for some cases of prosopagnosia after reading an old journal paper” from August this year. I have no idea whether such an idea is novel in the world of face recognition research, but I suspect that it might be of some importance.

Interesting new comments – thank you readers!

Are the flashbacks that are an element of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder a troublesome variety of synaesthesia and/or related to the Tetris effect?

Involuntary Method of Loci Memorization (IMLM) – what the heck is that?