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Arlin Cuncic

Face Blindness Linked to Social Anxiety

By December 18, 2011

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A recent study by researchers in Australia points to a possible relationship between difficulty with facial recognition and social anxiety.

In the study, 138 adults were given the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT) and the social interaction anxeity scale. As part of the CFMT, participants were trained to recognize 6 different faces, and then given trials where they had to distinguish between the learned faces and other faces.

Results showed a small but significant correlation between facial recognition and levels of social anxiety. People with higher social anxiety were less able to recognize faces. This result was also not due to a difference in visual memory; it was specific to faces.

Although the study results suggest a relationship, it is not clear which comes first. Social anxiety? Inability to recognize faces? Or is it a reciprocal relationship in that each makes the other worse?

As noted elsewhere, results of this study suggest a possible link between social anxiety and autism. People with autism and asperger's disorder have trouble recognizing faces. Could it be that we are actually looking at a continuum with introversion on one end and severe autism on the other?

If I was a betting woman (which I am not; I have been known to cash out after winning pocket change on a slot machine) I would say the odds are that is the case. It will be very interesting to watch the discussion and investigation unfold. Hopefully future research will answer these questions.

In the meantime, what can we do with this information?

If social anxiety causes poor facial recognition, then not much. But if poor facial recognition leads to increased social anxiety, then maybe we can work on our ability to recognize faces. However, research is still in its infancy as to whether this is possible.

Even if you can't improve your ability to remember faces, you can at least make people feel less slighted if you fail to recognize them at an upcoming function. When first meeting people, simply mention that you have a terrible time remembering faces, so they should not take it personally if you fail to recognize them the next time you meet.

Do you have trouble remembering faces?

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December 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm
(1) Leann French says:

I certainly can’t speak for everyone with social anxiety,since it affects us all in slightly different ways,but I wanted to make it clear that I’ve had SA my entire life,and I’ve never had any problems recognizing faces. I’ve actually always been quite good with faces! Maybe it has something to do with my artistic nature though. I’ve always loved drawing & painting,so perhap that causes me to pay closer attention to details such as facial features. All I know is that my SA has never caused me any problems at recognizing faces or understanding the meaning of facial expressions. My husband also has social anxiety,and he has no problem with those things either. I honestly have a very bad memory when it comes to most things,but faces isn’t one of them!

December 26, 2011 at 2:40 pm
(2) Donald says:

I’ve had SA ever since moving to America 4.5 years ago and now that I think about it, that is around the time I started to notice that I have a problem recognizing certain people’s faces. I’ve seen some people that I thought looked exactly like certain celebrities only to realize, after getting adjusted to their faces, that they barely look alike.

May 18, 2012 at 11:13 am
(3) tamasdf says:

This is just what I’ve been looking for.
I’ve never been able to remember a face or pretty much any physical details. I never notice changes in appearance and frequently ignore people I’ve met because I don’t recognise them. I can never describe what a person looked like – though I’m far more likely to remember great detail in regard to mood, personality or demeanour, more than what others I’m with tend to.
I’ve always wondered if it was linked to my anxiety (because I have significant problems with facial recognition and a very severe anxiety disorder).
This article was also really interesting as it describes how social anxiety has been linked to an increased ability to read facial expressions and recognise emotions displayed:

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