Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia)

What is Face Blindness?

Face blindness is also referred to as Prosopagnosia and is a brain disorder marked by the inability to recognize faces including one’s own face while object recognition and decision making remain intact.

The term Prosopagnosia comes from the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge.” Face blindness is thought to be caused by damage, abnormalities, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus which is a fold in the brain that seems to coordinate the neural systems that control memory and facial perception.

Face blindness may also result from traumatic brain injury, stroke, or certain neurodegenerative diseases.  There are two types of Prosopagnosia: congenital and acquired. A person with congenital Prosopagnosia never sufficiently develops the ability to recognize faces. Acquired Prosopagnosia is mostly found in adults and results from occipito-temporal lobe damage.  The condition makes it difficult to socialize normally and keep track of information regarding other people.

What are the Symptoms of Face Blindness?

The inability to recognize faces including one’s own, constantly confusing characters in the movies and on television, inability to recognize someone after they’ve gotten a haircut, and difficulty recognizing friends, neighbors, classmates, and co-workers out of context.

Face Blindness Causes

Face blindness, or prosopagnosia, affects anywhere from 1-2.5% of the general population. While it has long been thought to stem entirely from traumatic brain injury, recent research has shown that in some cases, people can have prosopagnosia if they have never suffered a neurological injury. This form of the condition is considered developmental or congenital, as it was likely present since birth. Prosopagnosia is also possible in cases where a patient has suffered a traumatic brain injury or neurological damage (such as from a stroke). In the case of prosopagnosia stemming from a traumatic brain injury or other neurological damage, it is referred to as acquired prosopagnosia. Recent evidence seems to suggest a genetic component to this condition, as many people with prosopagnosia also report having a relative who also suffers from face blindness.

While it may seem logical, research suggests that prosopagnosia is not correlated to issues of memory loss. Rather, it seems to be the result of abnormalities in or damage to the right fusiform gyrus, a part of the brain that coordinates and processes information relating to facial perception and memory.

How is Face Blindness Treated?

Treatment focuses on helping the individual to use secondary clues in identifying other people such as clothing, body shape, gait, hair color, voice, and skin color.

These compensatory strategies cannot treat the condition, but might help the person have near-normal social interactions.

Face Blindness Prevention

Currently, there is no concrete way to prevent prosopagnosia, however, there are some actions a person could take that may lessen their chances of developing prosopagnosia. As one of the causes of acquired prosopagnosia is traumatic brain injury, avoiding activities where the brain could be injured and wearing adequate head protection when in situations where head injuries are possible may help to lessen the chance that someone could acquire prosopagnosia. Similarly, knowing the warning signs of a stroke and seeking treatment early may help to decrease the risk of acquired prosopagnosia. Since congenital prosopagnosia is likely genetic, and appears to be present in small children, there is no known way of preventing this form of the condition at all.

Last Reviewed:
October 05, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017
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