Just now a guy came up to me from nowhere and started asking me about projects and tasks. For one minute I was just staring at his face, hesitantly answering his questions and thinking "who are you and why should I answer your questions?"
Then I realized who he was, project leader from another office and I've worked with him for several months but mostly over phone and e-mail. Sigh, recognizing faces can be really hard for some people. But why?
What leads to face recognition differences
Psychologists have already started to investigate why some people can distinguish between and remember hundreds of different faces easily while some people cannot. The differences may reflect processing or structural differences in the brain or be related to other more general cognitive abilities, like memory or visual processing.
Another possibility is that differences in face recognition are related to individuals’ personality or their social and emotional functioning, such as functioning of empathy and anxiety.
Empathy and face recognition
In a 2010 study published in Communicative & Integrative Biology, the researchers asked volunteers to try and remember the identity of a number of faces presented one at a time. The volunteers were later presented with the same faces mixed with new faces and were asked to state whether each face was "old" or "new."
The researchers found that those who rated themselves as high in empathy recognized faces significantly better than those with low empathy skills.
Anxiety and face recognition
Scientists have found that people who have lower levels of general anxiety have better face recognition skills than those who have higher levels of anxiety. A more recent study has suggested that this link may be more prominent for women and may be particularly related to social anxiety.
Situational anxiety can also be a factor. For instance, when an eyewitness is asked to identify the face of a suspect, he or she may feel stressed and fail to recognize the suspect.
Personality and face recognition
In the 2010 study, the researchers found that extroverts performed way better in a face recognition memory task than introverts.
In a 2015 study published in SAGE Journals, the researchers studied 100 volunteers with a range of extroversion levels. The volunteers were shown famous faces and were asked to identify them by giving names or some other identifying information.
This study also showed that there was a positive relationship between extroversion and famous face recognition.
Scientists do not yet understand the importance and reason for these findings, but it is possible that extroversion can contribute to better face recognition or maybe people who are better at identifying faces can become more extroverted.