Yes. Oh yes.
I don’t have severe social anxiety, but I do have some, and this gave me an aha! moment about it. I have a terrible time remembering faces. Even famous people. I recognize George Clooney, easy. Matt Damon? Not so much. Meryl Streep, easy. Charlize Theron? Not so much.
Put me in a large party and I spend a lot of time pretending I remember people who remember me. People tend to be hurt and offended when you don’t remember meeting them and I don’t blame them. If you remind me where or how we met, I might remember (although my memory is crappy in many ways so maybe not). Every party is a minefield of not recognizing people I don’t know well. And this is not just a problem at parties. I didn’t recognize a neighbor the other day and what’s worse, I took a guess and was wrong. Ugh, ugh, ugh.
I never made the connection between my anxiety about parties and facial recognition, but this information fits with the satisfying click of a puzzle piece set in place.
Researchers already know that people with full-out prosopagnosia (inability to recognize faces) are socially anxious, and why wouldn’t they be? But, the article says:
Here, our primary new finding is that, even within the normal range of face recognition abilities, there is also a small but significant relationship between face recognition ability and social anxiety, such that poorer face recognition skills are associated with higher social anxiety.
The researchers can’t say whether poor facial recognition leads to social anxiety, or whether social anxiety leads to poor facial recognition, in that people are so wrapped up in their anxiety that they don’t pay attention to faces. Or a little of both.
If social anxiety comes first, that suggests facial recognition is learned. The hypothesis is that people with social anxiety even as children did not look at faces enough to develop good facial recognition skills. Does this mean we can learn to be better at it?
That is a question of particular interest to autism researchers, because children with autism have difficulty recognizing faces. This study of a computer game designed to improve facial recognition ability in children with autism does report improvement. Maybe I should give it a shot.
This also puts a new light on another interesting theory: that introversion is on the non-clinical end of the autism scale. I’m an introvert and this seems plausible to me. Perhaps my introversion and poor facial recognition abilities are part of the same neurological somethingorother?
Oh, and because I don’t remember other people, I also assume other people don’t remember me, making me loathe to approach even people I remember. This probably makes me look like a snob.
Is it any wonder I anticipate parties with anxiety?