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What is Prosopagnosia?

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Prosopagnosia is a medical condition which is characterized by an inability to perceive faces. It is commonly known as “face blindness” — referring to an inability to remember faces, even those of people with whom one is familiar. Studies on prosopagnosia suggest that up to two percent of the population may be faceblind, and this estimate could be even higher with the assistance of better tracking and diagnostic tools. Currently, there is no known cure for prosopagnosia, although faceblind individuals can learn various tricks to help them get along socially.

The condition was first described and studied in detail in the 1940s, although it had been remarked upon much earlier. Initially, psychologists thought that the condition was caused only by trauma to the part of the brain which interprets information about the face, but over time people began to suspect that the condition could also be caused by genetic mutations. Prosopagnosia comes in varying degrees, with some patients not being able to perceive faces at all, while others have some facial recognition skills, or at least enough to learn the faces of familiar people.

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It can be difficult for people without prosopagnosia to understand this condition. Faceblind individuals are perfectly capable of seeing faces, their brains just lack the necessary tools to process them. Since faces are used as identifiers and to provide social cues, prosopagnosia can be a serious social handicap for people who suffer from this condition. An individual with prosopagnosia may fail to recognize even close friends or family members by their faces, or subtle cues which come from facial expressions can be missed.

A person with face blindness tends to use other cues to gather information about people and their identities. Gait, haircut, clothing, and voice are all common identifiers which are used by the faceblind to figure out who people are. Sudden changes in someone's style or voice can be jarring, and can lead to missed identifications. In severe cases, for example, someone might fail to recognize his or her child at school after a change of clothes, which can be frustrating, embarrassing, and potentially dangerous as well.

Diagnosing prosopagnosia can be difficult, especially in a mild case. A patient might assume that everyone sees faces and processes information in the same way. Medical tests can be used to test brain function and to suggest a case of prosopagnosia, and the condition is also diagnosed through interviews with patients. Common complaints of the faceblind include difficulty following movie plots due to an inability to keep track of characters, and a common feeling of not being able to identify people, sometimes causing offense through unintended rudeness such as a failure to say hello to a friend.

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anon993879
Post 19

I was so happy to find this article. I've had this problem (a mild version) my whole life. I finally realized I was different when I noticed that I never expect people to remember me (because I don't remember them) and finally began to wonder why they did recognize me after one meeting. I eventually met someone else who admitted to this problem just last year, and began to think I should "Google" it. Found all this info plus a name for the condition! Wow.

anon354516
Post 18

What a relief to find out other people suffer from this too! It seems there are different forms of it: I see faces very clearly when I'm looking at people, but don't remember them. It's not with friends or familiar people though, just with people I've only met once or twice. It can be very embarrassing!

AdamReale
Post 17

@Anon50550 (Post 8): Good news, there is a support group for prosopagnosia. Also, no need for name tags because it is online. Faceblind: Face Blindness - Prosopagnosia

anon256597
Post 16

All my life I had this terrible problem that I forget people's faces. It's a very embarrassing condition. I have hurt people's feelings by not remembering them and I am truly sorry for that.

I am not the worst case. I can work around it by being aware of it and paying extra attention. Most times it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.

brona
Post 15

I was thrilled to find out about this diagnosis after living with prosopagnosia as long as I can remember. I notice that all people look the same to me at first, but after repeated exposures (I'm not sure how many), I eventually "see" them. I totally get the post above about seeing people's auras instead. I know I get a feel for people well before I can recognize them. Like everyone else, I have always used other visual cues (hair length, wears glasses, fatter/thinner, etc.) to recognize people. I too have felt extreme embarrassment, and have been labeled stupid or snobbish or disinterested, etc. I'm so happy to know I'm not alone. I'm also starting to educate others about what it's like to live with this.

anon106688
Post 14

wow! I am 53 years old. I was watching millionaire and there was a question on prosopagnosia. I could not believe it. All my life i could not remember a face.

I was actually doing someone's taxes, and they left to bring back some papers i needed. when they arrived i asked "what can i do for you". They all laughed like i was nuts. I was so embarrassed.

that has been the story of my life. I have always tried to hide. I didn't want anyone to think i was stupid. I am actually relieved that i am not alone.

anon105623
Post 13

I remember when I was a kid and I read detective novels I would always worry of how I would describe the criminal to the police so they can make a sketch of him, but sadly I only put a name to this condition a couple of years ago.

the problem is, most of my friends don't believe me. They say they refuse to think that their friend has a "medical condition" but to me this says that they think I'm either stupid or a liar. I wish more research can be done.

anon84425
Post 12

I've only just found out about it. It's put a lot of things into perspective but also it's caused a great deal of hurt for the last 37 years.

I am a sociable person but I have felt like a "loner" and been isolated. People have called me arrogant and egotistical and ignorant. I am none of those things and it always hurt and nobody would believe I didn't see or speak to them.

If it happens once then it's okay, that happens to people but a few times and people drift out of your life. At least I have a name for it now.

anon80203
Post 11

I have it too, and it has been very difficult on my self-esteem (it makes me feel really stupid and embarrassed) and has been damaging to my professional life. I am social, really like people and talk to everyone, and yet after speaking with someone for an hour one day I might not recognize them the next.

I do remember closer friends, but may not if I have not seen them for a long time. This is a debilitating condition that deserves more recognition.

anon67280
Post 10

my daughter says that she cannot recall faces when the person is not in sight, but when she sees them, she knows who he/she is. if asked, she cannot give a description or 'pull-up' a mental image. has anyone heard of this?

anon55786
Post 9

I would like to add something. I'm anon50550. My recycle time is about 20 seconds not minutes. Also I had severe meningitis when 11 years old, which changed the way I tasted things and caused my hands to shake until I was in my twenties. It could be related.

I also had as a child PKD (paroxysmal kinesigenic dyskinesia) until I was 30. This is a rare neurological disease that is familial. Anyway, do any of you Prosopagnosiacs share any of these traits? I sound like a mess, but actually except for some rare embarrassing moments, I have done/do quite well.

anon50550
Post 8

Its great to put a name on a problem. My personal MD detected it when I met him on the street.

I wish we had a support group, but we would have to wear name tags.

I am 62 and have devised countless tricks to remember people. Usually after 20 minutes my memory of someone is gone. I use to think I was just stupid. If I think I recognize someone, I'm usually wrong. It took my wife years before she accepted my problem. I know people I like, love, admire, or detest; I know their "aura", but I can't remember their names. My closest friends prompt me when I'm in a group. I am successful at what I do, but have offended many people in my life. You must always be on guard. Good luck to you Prosopagnosiacs.

anon44843
Post 7

Is it possible for someone with this condition to only forget certain faces?

anon32764
Post 6

This is me too, again a mild case, but it is embarrassing. I work these days with a group of African Americans, and I'm pretty sure they think I can't remember their faces because blacks look alike to me. What they don't know is whites as well as everyone else look alike to me too.

anon30451
Post 5

One incident a few days ago helped me finally realize that I have a problem. I'm a junior in college and we break up into groups quite often. The first time we did it was quite embarrassing. We were assigned groups and we met for about 20 minutes. We then went into the room next door for an activity. All the groups were mixed together as we walked next door. I had *no idea* who my group members were!! I was mortified. It didn't even dawn on me that I would have this problem. I tried to recall who they were as hard as I could but it wouldn't come! Luckily someone said to me, "Aren't you in our group

? We're over here." I was so relieved. Now when I meet people I have to really focus hard on their facial features. But, usually it's their clothes I remember most. Out of context (out of class) it's almost impossible for me to recognize 95% of my classmates. My boyfriend can see a face for 10 seconds and remember it the rest of his life. I'm so amazed! I think I have severely impaired visual memory.

Also, I have a *terrible* time with names. Any abstract word like a name is extremely difficult to remember. Likewise, maybe most faces are just too abstract for me to remember. Most seem just too common.

I notice if I have an emotional connection to a word or a face, I can more easily remember it. For example: someone attractive or very friendly, I have no problem remembering their face and sometimes their name. It's all quite interesting.

anon9105
Post 4

more holy cow...

When I realized that I didn't recognize faces so well I made it a point to pick out a feature on a person's face and really notice that feature and its uniqueness, so that the next time I saw them I could recognize them. I never knew it had a name.

bigmetal
Post 3

wow! that is really interesting...didn't know such a condition existed. i wonder if there are varying degrees of it, sometimes, i can't describe someone just after meeting them. i think there are some people who just notice facial features better than others. i wonder, if people with prosopagnosia eventually are able to recognize and read faces of the people they see most often, such as family and close friends? also, i would think that it could be a significant disability in certain fields of work.

anon9002
Post 2

holy cow!

this is me! I would always say, I can't remember faces... and then once a guy I worked with asked me to relay a message and I asked, "And you are...? He looked at me like I was nuts, then he said his name and I was mortified! now I know what it is!!! at least I only have a mild case...and what a great word...prosopagnosia

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