Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Phonagosia: The Befuddling Inability to Recognize Voices

I have heard of prosopagnosia - the inability to recognize faces - before, but never phonagnosia - the inability to recognize voices. NPR has an interesting article about Steve Royster, one of very few people in the world who suffer from this condition (or, at least, who know they suffer from it).

Phonagosia is not quite the same as being unable to hear variety in people's voices. As the article states, people who have phonagosia can tell just as well as anyone else if someone is old or young, male or female, from their voice. What they cannot do is associate a voice with a person. Naturally this can cause difficulty in daily life, such as when speaking on the phone.
Skye - telephone
I thought, logically, that somebody who has hearing loss might also have difficulty recognizing voices depending on their type of loss. Rather than their brain being injured, as in the case of phonagosia, people with hearing loss would miss crucial clues in a person's voice that would clue them in to who they are speaking to. But, for me, I actually recognize voices quite well. I think this is part of the work of getting along in a hearing world. I already make daily adjustments to follow conversations and hear people's tones of voice, so this extra listening pays off in being able to recognize voices pretty well.

Of course, I also have voices for whom my hearing loss seems barely significant. I can understand my mom almost 100% of the time even in a loud situation. My dad, brother, and husband are also easier to hear. That comes just from talking to them constantly and from their knowledge of "how" to speak to me.

(via Neatorama)


  1. That's quite interesting- I have mild/mod loss and am not good at recognising who's who on the phone, when I call work. I'm not good at recognising my dad's voice on the phone either- it sounds different to in person.

  2. Great article. I am deaf in one ear and have a profound hearing loss from Meniere's in my other ear. I can't recognize people's voices on the phone. Only my husband and sometimes if he is on his cell phone I can't.


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