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.

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