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Face Blindness

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Updated April 21, 2008

Face blindness, or prosopagnosia, is a condition characterized by the inability to recognize or distinguish faces. Face blindness is a socially disabling condition thought to be hereditary or caused by brain injuries.

What Face Blindness Is Like:

Imagine walking into work each day and never recognizing your coworkers. A person with face blindness has a difficult time telling people, and sometimes objects, apart. Although some cases of prosopagnosia seem to be limited to face recognition, some people with the disorder also find difficulty distinguishing between places, objects (such as their own car), or human emotions. Sometimes people with face blindness even find it hard to recognize immediate family members and close friends.

Symptoms of Face Blindness:

Most people occasionally forget a name, but usually recall a face. A person with face blindness forgets making common acquaintances, even after several encounters. In extreme cases, a person may not even recognize immediate family members. It is also difficult for them to imagine images of people in their minds. Another symptom of the disorder is depending on non-facial clues, such as a person's hairstyle and voice tone, for distinguishing people. A big concern of some people is the inability to follow a television show or movie, as they find it difficult to tell the actors apart.

Causes of Face Blindness:

Research suggests that there may be a part of the brain that is responsible for facial recognition, allowing us to differentiate between people. Face blindness often occurs following damage to the brain, including head trauma, stroke, and degenerative diseases. Recent evidence suggests, however, that a congenital form of face blindness exists. Cases of face blindness can sometimes be traced through families.

What You Need to Know:

If you notice a significant change in your face recognition abilities, you should contact a neurologist immediately. Any sudden decline may be a symptom of a serious condition that needs immediate attention.

You may also be interested in using Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London's tool to test your face recognition abilities.

Source: Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London, FaceBlind.org.UCL, 2007.

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