Researchers have discovered the first known case of a person born without the ability to recognize what should be familiar voices, even that of her own daughter.
Previously, the rare condition, known as phonagnosia, has been diagnosed only in people who suffered a stroke or some sort of brain injury.
But University of London researchers reported in the online issue of the journal Neuropsychologia that they have found a 60-year-old woman who was born with the condition.
The woman, known as only as KH, has such difficulty recognizing the voices of people that she avoids answering the phone when possible and, for many years, only answered calls from friends or co-workers at scheduled times.
For the study, researchers played KH the voices of several famous people including Margaret Thatcher, David Beckham and Sean Connery, who played the original James Bond.
Oddly, she only recognized the voice of Connery. She also did well in determining emotion, such as surprise, in people’s voices and was able to discern between different musical instruments in most cases.
The condition has caused the woman problems both personally and professionally. In the 1980s, she introduced herself to co-workers using a variation of her first name so that she would know that it was someone related to her job when they phoned and asked for her using that name.
"Occasionally, people have experienced problems recognizing voices following a stroke or brain damage, but this is the first documented case of someone growing up with this condition," Dr. Brad Duchaine, co-author of the paper, said in the study. "We suspect that there are other people out there with similar problems, and we'd like to get in touch with them.
"Voice recognition may not seem as important as face recognition, given that failing to recognize someone in front of you can cause much more social anxiety than not recognizing them over the phone," he continued. "Yet we rely on voice recognition in our day-to-day lives, to identify people on the phone or those speaking on the radio."
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