Living in a Sea of Faces- Life with Prosopagnosia


Everyone has had that awkward encounter where someone comes up to you and says hello, and you have no idea who that person is. Maybe there is some sense of familiarity as you look into their eyes and try to place where you know them from. Or maybe you have absolutely no recollection of meeting them at all. Either way, you now have to either fake your way through a conversation, acting like you know this person, or ask awkwardly where you might know them from. For most people, this only happens every once in a while. For the most part, when you see someone who you have met or know on a personal level, you are able to recognize who they are. For one percent of the population, however, this feeling is much common. These individuals a condition known as prosopagnosia.

Agnosia is a disorder where individuals are unable to recognize objects or people, due to some sort of trauma to the brain. Prosopagnosia, or facial agnosia, is a specific branch in this type of disorder where individuals are not able to recognize faces. The causes for prosopagnosia can vary but typically are based in some sort of abnormality in the parts of the brain that relate to facial recognition, like the fusiform gyrus and the visual cortex. There are varying levels of severity to the disorder. In some cases, the individual could have a hard time recognizing faces and putting a name to the person. In more severe cases, an individual might not be able to tell the difference between a face and any other object. These abnormalities can be congenital, with an individual having this disorder their entire life, or it can be caused due to some sort of neurological damage, like a stroke or traumatic brain injury.

People with prosopagnosia have to use compensatory strategies to help them recognize others. They might rely on clues such as hairstyle, clothing, or voice to help identify who a person is, but this method is not perfect. As one woman who live with prosopagnosia said, if her curly hair mother straightened her hair, she wouldn’t be able to tell who it was. She couldn’t recognize an ex-boyfriend at a bar when after he got a haircut and she was wearing heels, so the height difference was off.

As you could probably imagine, this can be extremely isolating. Not being able to know who is around you and recognize your loved ones would be terrifying. It can also be extremely dangerous, especially if you don’t know that you have this condition. Individuals have accidentally cheated on their spouses, thinking that they are with their partner and not a stranger.  Children with the condition could be easily kidnapped, as they would think that they are with someone they know. If you aren’t aware that you have this condition, you wouldn’t know to look out for these situations.

What is alarming is that it is not that uncommon of a condition, but not many people may know that they actually have this disorder. If you would like to compare how well you can recognize faces compared to others, there are online tests that can be done such as this one, https://www.testmybrain.org/tests/famous_faces/ . While the results of these tests should be taken with a grain of salt, it is informative to see how well you can recognize faces, as well as get a better insight into what it might feel like to have face blindness.

Work Cited:

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.testmybrain.org/tests/famous_faces/

Agnosia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/8/agnosia

Information About Prosopagnosia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://prosopagnosiaresearch.org/index/information

Information About Prosopagnosia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://prosopagnosiaresearch.org/index/information

Prosopagnosia Information Page. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Prosopagnosia-Information-Page

Prosopagnosia: How face blindness means I can’t recognize my mum. (2016, July 01). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36651390

Thomas, C., Avidan, G., Humphreys, K., Jung, K., Gao, F., & Behrmann, M. (2008). Reduced structural connectivity in ventral visual cortex in congenital prosopagnosia. Nature Neuroscience,12(1), 29-31. doi:10.1038/nn.2224

 


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