On Wednesday morning around 8:40, the front doorbell rang. On opening it I saw a youngish middle aged, smartly dressed woman. Her hair dark hair, as was her attire and even her makeup. She was carrying a ring-binder folder in one hand and what appeared to be a guitar case in the other.
For the life of me I couldn’t think of a reason why such a person should be calling. Door to door sales people are a rare as hens’ teeth these days, and the guitar case kind of ruled out an official visit from some sort of authority. The possibility of this being a religious caller sprung to mind, but they usually arrive in pairs, and such visitors turn up less than once a year.
Within two seconds of opening the door, I was leaning towards this being someone on a personal campaign, a survey of some sort, or someone representing a charity, but why the guitar case? To be honest I was puzzled by her presence, And I wondered what the purpose of her calling was all about.
Just then my peripheral vision caught something rapidly approaching from my left. Just as I began to turn my head to see what was bearing down on me with undue speed, the woman spoke.
That cleared it all up. The visitor was our daughter, and that object approaching at near the speed of sound was Milo, her Whippet/Labrador cross.
If you’re thinking that I rarely see our daughter, you’re wrong. She typically drops in four or five times each week. Nor was her appearance any different from what it normally is when she calls in before work, and that occurs at least twice each week when she drops off Milo. So why didn’t I recognise her?
Two obvious clues: (1) Milo had been distracted by something she saw or smelled, and wasn’t at the door when I opened it; (2) I didn’t see our daughter’s car coming up our driveway. Either of these are conditions that prepare me to expect the visitor to be our daughter. Always, as it was in this case, her voice is what confirms her identity.
Face blindness, or Prosopagnosia affects about 2% of the general population, but is much more prevalent among those on the autism spectrum. I rely on features such as gait, mannerisms, body size and shape, but especially voice to recognise others.
Some clues such as hair style and colour, and skin tone are less reliable, especially with women, as they have a tendency to change these from time to time. This has lead to some of my most embarrassing moments. With women, even gait changes depending on the height of the heels they’re wearing. I’m very grateful that my wife does not like wearing heels, and even on occasions when heels are expected they’re only about 3 cm high (a little over an inch high) and doesn’t change her gait significantly.
I’m also grateful that she’s much shorter that almost every other adult (1.47 m or 4′ 10″), and has a gait typical of many Japanese farming families of her generation. Lets just say that the Western view of deportment was not a consideration. Both these characteristics help me pick her out in a crowd, but it’s her voice that truly identifies her. The accent and volume are very distinctive.
Couple face blindness with an inability to read facial clues and a similar inability to display them, and I find myself at a considerable disadvantage in social interactions. Unfortunately this is one area I have made very little improvement on through experience or experimentation.
I’m no better today than I was sixty years ago as a ten year old boy. Way back then first impressions of me ranged from odd, peculiar or quirky to just scary – the latter especially so if I made the first attempt at communication; it was safer to wait for others to make an approach. I would like to think I have made an improvement with first impressions since then, but have I?
Oh, and on the off chance that you’re wondering about the guitar case: On Wednesdays, I pick up the grand children from school. The guitar case, its content, and the ring binder belong to our granddaughter who has guitar lessons after school on that day.
Time hasn’t help me improve the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test linked to above. I typically score somewhere in the vicinity of 12 out of 36 (the median for males is 21/36). I tried the test today when searching for the link, but today and I achieved a lowly 7/36. I could probably done better by covering the images and randomly choosing one of the four emotions provided for each image.