In an instant you can tell if your mother is on the phone. Her voice is one that you have heard from the womb. However, patients with Phonagnoia can not recognize a voice on the other end of the phone until the other person identifies themselves. This happens even with the patient’s own mother. With the invention of Caller ID this may just be a small annoyance, but even that is not fail proof.
Voice Blindness vs. Face Blindness
Although Phonagnosia is fairly new, there are some things that we do know about it. It is a close cousin to Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness). In face blindness, the patient is unable to use the face to recognize someone that they know. They can use other clues such as hair, clothes, and body shape to identify the person. In voice blindness a patient is able to recognize the person by sight just not by sound. This is not as big of an issue socially as face blindness but it is still a problem. In today’s society, where telephones are everywhere, being able to recognize someone by voice is important.
The first case of voice blindness that was not caused by damage in someway to the brain was one of a 60-year old professional woman. She went by the initials KH. KH learned very early that she had a problem recognizing voices on the other end of the phone. She found many ways to cope. She would schedule times when certain people would call so that she knew who it was when the phone rang. She also used a ‘business name’ so if someone asked for her by that name then she knew it was for work. KH, like other people that suffer from the disorder, can recognize changes in tone of voices. This means that a person can tell if the other person is happy, excited or making a joke. However, they just can not tell you who it is. This would even occur with close family members.
Judging on what we know about face blindness, a condition like this would normally show up after damage to the brain. There have been some cases where there was damage to the right hemisphere of the brain after a stroke or other brain damage. This is the most common cause, but researchers are now seeking help from those that suffer from this disorder with the brain damage. A MRI of KH’s brain showed no damage. This has baffled scientists.
While voice blindness may not be as disabling as face blindness there are a lot of situations where it would be a true problem. While being called at work by a boss that worked away from the office would be one example. Any person that does not own Caller ID on their phone will find this to be a problem. There are many other situations where not being able to even recognize the voice of family would be embarrassing.
The most common solution would be to own Caller ID. However, this is not fail proof. For the person actually dialing may not be the owner of the phone number. Therefore, another adaptation would be to identify yourself as soon as you get on the phone with someone that suffers from Phonagnosia. Most importantly, it is necessary to understand that they should not be ashamed to ask who it is even if it is their own mother.
The true mysteries of the brain are still unknown to researchers. As we learn more, there become more questions.