What is Prosopagnosia?
Prosopagnosia or face blindness is a disorder of the brain, where the person is unable to recognize or differentiate between different faces. Prosopagnosia is known to affect 2% of the general population.(1)
People with prosopagnosia have a problem in identifying the faces of strangers and also recognizing familiar faces.
Causes of Prosopagnosia
Prosopagnosia occurs due to abnormality, damage, or impairment in the fold of the brain called the right fusiform gyrus.(2) This is an area in the brain that plays a role in coordinating the neural system that affects facial memory and perception.
Prosopagnosia can occur due to the following reasons:
- Injury to the brain
- Neurodegenerative disease
Some people are born with prosopagnosia or face blindness as a congenital condition. It may be due to a genetic link.
Face blindness is not a symptom of autism but it’s seen in those with autism more than in the general population. Impairment in the social development of people with autism has face blindness play a role.
Symptoms of Prosopagnosia
Inability to identify faces is a common symptom of prosopagnosia and this makes it difficult to form or maintain relationships. A person with prosopagnosia may find it difficult to recognize people who show up in different settings or contexts.
Patients with minor prosopagnosia generally struggle to recognize people, faces of strangers, or people they do not know well. Those with more severe illness may find it difficult to recognize the faces of people they see regularly including friends and family. In severe prosopagnosia, people may find it difficult in recognizing their own faces. This may lead to social anxiety and depression.
A child with prosopagnosia has the following characteristics:
- They would wait for the parent who comes to pick them up to wave before coming over.
- They may approach strangers thinking they are you or a person that had to go to.
- They may fail to identify familiar people like relatives, friends, or neighbors when they see them at some other place other than where they usually see them.
- They may withdraw themselves in public places.
- Find it difficult in making friends.
- They may seem withdrawn in school but would be fine at home.
How is Prosopagnosia Diagnosed?
If a person has a problem recognizing a face, their doctor might refer them to a neurologist.
An assessment may be done at a neurology clinic to evaluate the ability to recognize facial features. There may be an evaluation of the following:
- Ability to identify faces of family members
- Ability to detect emotional cues from a set of faces
- Ability to identify similarities or differences in facial features from a the set of faces
- Ability to assess information about age and gender from a set of faces
There are two tests that may help a physician evaluate prosopagnosia. These are:
- The Benton Facial Recognition Test (BFRT)
- Warrington Recognition Memory of Faces
However, the results from these two tests are not completely reliable in diagnosing face blindness. A study also found irregular scores were not consistent with face blindness.(3) Therefore, a physician’s opinion is considered more valuable.
Treatment of Prosopagnosia
Treatment of prosopagnosia or face blindness is not possible. The treatments are given to focus on the coping mechanism that may be helpful in identifying individuals better.
The person is made to focus on certain aspects that help in identifying a person. This may include noticing the hair texture, height, or voice of a person. Identifying certain traits like gait can also be helpful.
Coping with Prosopagnosia
Prosopagnosia may affect a person’s ability to form social and professional relationships, which may also lead to anxiety and depression.
Learning ways to identify a person, not by recognizing their face but other features can prove to be helpful.
People with prosopagnosia who face anxiety or depression due to their inability to recognize the faces of people should consult a therapist. A therapist can help them in developing techniques to:
- Connect with people in better ways
- Build strong interpersonal skills
- Manage depression and anxiety.