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bookish1's avatar

Is there a name for this cognitive event? (See details)

Asked by bookish1 (13069 points ) October 16th, 2012

I’ve been meaning to ask this on Fluther for months but I kept forgetting! But I have been experiencing and wondering about this for years.

I feel like I have some sort of cognitive ‘set’ of people whom I expect to see, based on a location. For instance, friends, professors, staff, and acquaintances I knew from college would be one set; the regulars at my favorite bar in town would be another; my colleagues, professors, and undergrad students that I know from grad school would be a third. (You know how our brains don’t actually perceive most of the information that is before us? For instance, we can see the outline of a chair with lots of the image missing, and still recognize it, or we can recognize words just based on their first and last letters. I feel like recognizing people works the same for me.)

I often find that I ‘mix up’ these cognitive sets. So, I’ll be walking in the town where I attend grad school, and see people that I confuse, on first sight, with people I knew from college, or from my home town where I grew up. When I was in France this summer, it took me a few weeks to get used to not being able to recognize people from previous cognitive sets, and similarly, when I came back to the U.S., it took me a while to get used to recognizing the people whom I was likely to encounter on a daily basis.

Is this something that you have ever experienced? Am I just really ‘bad with faces’? Is there a name for this phenomenon in psychology?

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13 Answers

Kayak8's avatar

I don’t know any official name, but I do the same thing you do. For me, it is context. I know people from group A in a certain context and people from group B in a different context and if I see someone in a different context than I anticipate, it can take me a minute to connect that I know them and then to figure out what my typical context with the person is. I also find that I look for familiar faces (subconsciously) when I am in unfamiliar environments (even though it doesn’t really make sense to do so).

Buttonstc's avatar

Lesley Stahl did a piece on this for 60 Minutes. Evidently peoples ability to recognize faces varies and there is something called “Face Blindness”. The technical name is prosopagnosia.

Some people are more hampered by it than others. Well known Neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sachs. himself has this condition.

I’m fairly sure you can find the vid on their site. It aired fairly recently and was quite fascinating.

bookish1's avatar

@Kayak8: So it’s not just me. Thanks for your response. You are much more capable of explaining that succinctly than I am! Yep, it is a problem of confusing contexts, I guess.

And thanks for the response @Buttonstc. I’ll look into that! I wouldn’t say I have complete “face blindness” but I do seem to have more problems with this than seems usual!

Buttonstc's avatar

It can affect people to varying degrees and people have developed various coping mechanism to deal with it.

When you mention associating people in familiar groups, that’s what reminded me of that report as it’s an effective coping method for many.

It’s a fairly recent discovery so they’re still doing studies of varying types.

I can probably have it in a rather mild way. One of the characteristics mentioned was difficulty distinguishing characters from one another in multi-character movies.

If there are two blonde supporting actresses, it takes me a second viewing to clearly remember one from the other. Not so much with the lead characters but definitely with many of the others.

It’s an interesting phenomenon.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t know of an official name for it, but I experience it a bit, too. If I see someone I know in a different place than I’m used to seeing them, it throws my brain for a bit of a loop. It will take me a second or two to figure out who they are and where I know them from.

It happened to me just this morning, as a matter of fact. I ran into my ex-husband’s uncle in a totally unexpected place. I saw his face, and knew I knew him, but couldn’t place him for a second. Same thing happened for him, too… he was unsure of my identity for a minute.

bkcunningham's avatar

We have an entire group of friends we met at our community swimming pool. The first few times we saw them outside the pool setting, it was that same feeling of, ‘Where do I know that person from?’

Now, we have an inside joke we say when we see each other outside the pool setting. “Oh, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.”

janbb's avatar

My father once saw a man he thought he knew in the synagogue. He said to the man, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” and the man leaned over and whispered, “I’m your dentist.”

Coloma's avatar

It’s the “P” in your personality. Perceiving types with a strong perceiving function are notorious for being a bit scattered at times and not remembering or connecting names and faces from past encounters. We absorb so much on a cellular level that at times we can appear oblivious to details.
A strong perceiving function makes for a perfect blend of scattered brilliance, this is why NP’s and NTP types are often called ” wacky professors.” haha
:-)

Kayak8's avatar

@Coloma You just solved my mystery!

Unbroken's avatar

Check this out https://www.faceblind.org/research/
@Coloma I think I agree with though. Sometimes I am too preoccupied with my own thoughts to notice.

Unbroken's avatar

@Buttonstc sorry I missed your post.

Buttonstc's avatar

No problem. That’s an excellent link you posted and goes into quite a bit more helpful info than the 60 Mins. piece.

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