Does the false accuser in the Duke non-rape hoax suffer from some form of prosopagnosia or "face blindness?" It turns out that perhaps anywhere from 6 million to 7.5 million Americans suffer from this disorder. It is one possible explanation for her problems in identifying the Duke lacrosse players during her several official (and tainted) police lineups.
Some evidence of "face blindness" in the Duke case:
- The accuser never identified, during any of her lineups, the two lacrosse players who she said, "followed them [her & Ms. Roberts] to the car and apologized."
- She was never able to identify the "three guys [who] grabbed Nikki," and dramatically separated Kim Roberts from her at the bedroom door as the clung to each other.
- She was never able to connect the names Adam, Bret, Matt, and Dan to any of the lacrosse players with those names.
- Her comment about David Evans: "He looks just like him without the mustache," could be suggesting that she needs facial clues like a mustache, for example, to help her in the identification of individuals.
- See the conflicting identifications (below) made between the March and April lineups that demonstrate further evidence of a "face blindness" disorder on the part of the accuser.
Prosopagnosia (sometimes known as face blindness) is disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while the ability to recognize objects may be relatively intact.New studies have calculated that 2% to 2.5% of the population might suffer from this disorder. NY Times:
Few successful therapies have so far been developed for affected people, although individuals often learn to use 'piecemeal' or 'feature by feature' recognition strategies. This may involve secondary clues such as clothing, hair color, body shape, and voice. Because the face seems to function as an important identifying feature in memory, it can also be difficult for people with this condition to keep track of information about people, and socialize normally with others.
...in May, the researchers Ken Nakayama and Richard Russell at Harvard and Bradley Duchaine at University College, London, declared that as many as 2 percent of all humans seem to suffer from face-blindness to some degree. The team recruited some 1,600 volunteers and gave them a battery of tests. In one, the subjects were shown six faces, and then those faces were mixed in with others and the subjects were asked which they had seen before. Fully 1 in 50 of the participants performed as poorly on the tests as did the prosopagnosics whom Nakayama and Duchaine had already identified in the lab. In a study published in August in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, a German research team came up with a similar figure for the prevalence of the disorder, 2.5 percent, via surveys and interviews with 689 high-school and medical students in Münster, Germany.Given these new studies, regarding prosopagnosia, it would seem logical for defense attorneys to start demanding that eyewitnesses demonstrate that they do not suffer from face blindness. Could the Duke trial be used as a test case, where defense attorneys seek proof that the alleged victim does not suffer from this disorder? What is the precedent?
Face-blindness can be sadly debilitating: in some cases, parents can’t tell which kindergartner is theirs; sufferers become shut-ins, overwhelmed by a world full of blank faces. Before their diagnosis, many people with prosopagnosia assume that they are just socially awkward. “You have a perceptual problem, and you self-ascribe,” Nakayama says. “You say you are an introvert.” If the 2.5 percent figure is correct, millions of Americans may be misreading a glitch in their cognitive software — analogous to colorblindness — as a personality flaw.
Here is a comparison of the selections made by the accuser in lineups conducted by the Durham Police Department in March and April.Looking at her identification track record, you have to wonder what would the difference be between the false accuser and a person who is confirmed to suffer from prosopagnosia.
Comments are made by Iowa State University professor Gary Wells, an expert on police identification procedures.
Player: Brad Ross.......March Lineup: Yes.......April Lineup: Yes
Comment: Ross was with his girlfriend at N.C. State until after the party broke up; she filed a sworn affidavit, backed by Ross’s cell-phone records showing calls originating in Raleigh from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. that day. Wells said, "It places [the accuser] in the questionable category of eyewitnesses who is capable of being positive and wrong. That’s a red flag."
Players: Fred Krom, Nick O'Hara, Kevin Mayer.... March: Yes.....April: No
Players: Glenn Nick, John Walsh, Kyle Dowd, Adam Langley, Josh Coveleski, Matt Wilson, Ben Koesterer, Peter Lamade, Dan Flannery, Erik Henkelman, David Evans, Willliam Wolcott........March lineup: No........April lineup: Yes
Comment: Wells said he could understand a witness having unclear memories of tangential people: "Her consistency about who she says are her attackers is crucial." She did not recognize Matt Wilson or David Evans in March but identified them as assailants in April.
Player: Reade Seligmann.......March: 70 percent......April: 100 percentComment: In March, the accuser was 70 percent certain she recognized Seligmann but could not remember exactly where she saw him at the party. In April, she was 100 percent certain he had assaulted her. Seligmann was indicted two weeks later. Wells: “Memory doesn’t get better with time. That’s one of the things we know. How does she get more positive with time?”Player: Tony McDevitt.......March lineup: n/a.......April lineup: Yes
Comment: The accuser said McDevitt made the comment about the broomstick; the captains said Peter Lamade made that comment and that McDevitt repeatedly apologized to the second dancer about his teammates’ behavior.
Player: Chris Loftus........March lineup: n/a.......April lineup: Yes
Comment: He was not at the party but was in his dorm with his roommate and their girlfriends, according to interviews by private investigators and other records provided to police.
The Visage Problem - NY Times, Dec. 10, 2006
Conflicting Identifications (.pdf) - N&O, Oct. 6, 2006
Identification Issues - TJN, Oct. 25, 2006