In our Advanced Social Psychology book, there is a claim that people tend to be very good at recognizing facial identity (that is, people) across very long time-spans. I got to test that this weekend. I returned to my hometown for our 40 year reunion. This is Sweden, so the reunion was for “Grundskolan”, the 9 year obligatory school from 7-16.
I left Ludvika in 1978, when I was 19, after the additional 3 years of “Gymnasium”. Although I have been back, visiting my parents on occasion, before even they left around 2002, the visits have been sparse and brief, with no known meetings with old school mates. Many, like me, also left town and settled elsewhere. As I settled in Los Angeles that didn’t give much opportunity to meet up, and keep the neural net-works updated on identity despite the subtle shifts of looks.
It was hard!
I came early. One of the arrangers greeted me, and clearly knew who I was, and I was at a loss! Didn’t help she was an impish one letting me stew on it for a bit (though she took mercy on me finally).
The meetings really were of guessing. Sometimes it didn’t go both ways – people recognized me, even though I didn’t recognize them, and vice versa. But, there really was that hesitating, do I remember, do I recognize, will there kick something in.
There were a few where I think I did get them from the looks. Two women with fairly distinctive features that were still there.
There were others where the name did something to alter recognition so I knew, yes, I remember who you are, and how you looked, and can match it with how you look now.
But, had I run into any of them in the street, there would not have been a glimmer of recognition.
We’re all chunkier, and wrinklier, and saggier, and greyer or balder than the 16 year olds we last remembered, as we should be.
And now, I find that whatever networks are processing are slowly connecting the looks now with the looks then, creating more of a continuity – the same that I have with those that I have seen more frequently across time, where sometimes chunks like 10 years seems to do very little to impair recognition, and the sense is that they look exactly the same as then.
I had a lovely lovely time. It was nice meeting up, and talking to people, and hearing about their lives.