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Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia)

At the request of a number of family members and friends, I have added Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia) to the IAE-pedia article on Brain Disorders and Learning. Face Blindness, according to the data below, may affect up to 2.5% of the population. Sadly, many of those with Face Blindness have no idea that it is a medically diagnosed disorder. Many people who do not have face blindness do not appreciate the problems that face blind people deal with on a daily basis.

Many of those affected may, like myself, have struggled their entire life with this problem without knowing we suffer from this brain disorder. The following is from the IAE-pedia article mentioned above.

Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia)

Quoting from the Wikipedia:

Prosopagnosia, also called face blindness, is a cognitive disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact. The term originally referred to a condition following acute brain damage (acquired prosopagnosia), but a congenital or developmental form of the disorder also exists, which may affect up to 2.5% of the population.

I (David Moursund) have face blindness. I did not discover this until I was well into my 50's. Needless to say, it is a major handicap being a teacher faced by a great many students, and not being able to learn to recognize them by their faces! I was amazed by teachers who could quickly learn to recognize all of the students in their classes, while I struggled learning to recognize just a few.

There are many free self-assessment tests for face blindness available on the Web. For example:

CBS News (8/5/2012). Do You Have Troubles Recognizing Faces? Take a Test. Retrieved 5/5/2014 from Quoting from the site:

This week on "60 Minutes" Lesley Stahl reports on people who are "face blind." It's a mysterious and sad condition that keeps sufferers from recognizing or identifying faces—even the faces of close family members, children, or spouses. Many "face blind" people don't even know they have it.

At the current time, face blindness is considered to be an incurable neurological disorder. A 5/5/2014 Google search of the term face blindness test produced over 5.8 million hits. Thus, it certainly is not a hidden, unknown disorder.

The Prosopagnosia Research Center at Bournemouth University, UK provides a list of symptoms that are useful in identifying prosopagnosia in young children. The site provides advice to parents, teachers, and others who suspect a child may be face blind. Here is a partial list the article provides of symptoms of face blindness in young children.

  • Your child has difficulty following the plots of TV shows or films.
  • When asked to imagine a familiar person's face, your child displays an unusual reliance on external cues to recognition (e.g. hairstyle), rather than describing the facial features themselves.
  • Your child frequently fails to recognize familiar people when encountering them in unexpected contexts.

People with face blindness develop a variety of coping mechanisms. See a video featuring Oliver Sacks, a well known neuroscientist, and artist Chuck Close at Quoting from the website:

Oliver and Chuck—both born with the condition known as Face Blindness—have spent their lives decoding who is saying hello to them. You can sit down with either man, talk to him for an hour, and if he sees you again just fifteen minutes later, he will have no idea who you are. (Unless you have a very squeaky voice or happen to be wearing the same odd purple hat.) Chuck and Oliver tell Robert what it's like to live with Face Blindness in a conversation recorded for the World Science Festival, and they describe two very different ways of coping with their condition (which may be more common than we think).

There are many such stories. My wife of many years would come to the local airport to pick me up when I returned from a trip. She would stand in front of the group waiting to greet returning passengers. I would look at this group, carefully scanning to see if my wife had arrived. She was always there, but I could seldom pick her out in the crowd!

What You Can Do

Set yourself a goal of helping to identify one or more persons who have face blindness and who are not aware of it. This can easily be done when you have the opportunity to talk to a large group of people. Describe some of the symptoms via an “amusing” story or two (even I find them amusing—but also quite sad) such as those mentioned above. Adults who have face blindness and are not aware of it will easily recognize their symptoms.

Ask for a show of hands of those who have face blindness and/or who know someone who has this medical disorder. This helps the audience to gain greater awareness of the widespread prevalence of the disorder.

Those who do not will likely mention this “strange” disorder to people they know, and soon some people who have this disorder will become aware of the true nature of their problem.

It is more of a challenge when working with young children. Try out the ideas provided at Prosopagnosia Research Center at Bournemouth University, UK. If you teach in a school, bring up the topic in a faculty meeting. Elicit the help of your fellow teachers. (And, you just might help a fellow teacher to discover that he or she has face blindness!)

IAE Resources

Moursund, D. (2014). Brain Science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/9/2014 from

Moursund, D. (2014). Brain Disorders and Learning. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/9/2014 from

Moursund, D. (2014). Self-assessment Instruments. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 5/9/2014 from

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