Prosopagnosia

Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder that is described as, “an inability to recognize faces”(Goldstein, 2011.) It is also known as face blindness or facial agnosia. There are various degrees of impairment, that range mildly from an inability to recognize a familiar face to more severe by not being able to distinguish the difference between a face and an object(http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/prosopagnosia/Prosopagnosia.htm, 2007.) Brad Pitt believes he might have some form of this disorder, but is undiagnosed at this time.

Prosopagnosia is thought to be the result of people who have abnormalities, damage, or impairment to their temporal lobe on the lower right side of the brain in a fold called the fusiform gyrus. The fusiform gyrus coordinates with neural systems that control facial perception and memory. This disorder is thought to be the result of stroke, traumatic brain injury, or a neurodegenerative disease. At times this can be congenital, present without brain damage since birth. Congenital prosopagnosia appears to run in families. Children with Autism often have some degree of prosopagnosia, which may explain their impaired social development(http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/prosopagnosia/Prosopagnosia.htm, 2007.)

Unless prosopagnosia is causing a person to not recognize themselves in the mirror, many people go undiagnosed into adulthood without realizing there is a real disorder present. A woman named Ronna Benjamin didn’t think much of it until she ran into situations, such as previously having a woman over for dinner with her husband and not recognizing her at a later date in the grocery store. Her name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t match the face. Other times, she would meet people multiple times, yet still didn’t recognize them. Brad Pitt also lacks the ability to recognition people he has previously met and believes he could suffer from this disease as well, although, he is undiagnosed(Benjamin, 2014.)

Prosopagnosia can be socially detrimental. It can cause individuals to have difficulty remembering family and close friends. To treat this disorder, individuals must develop compensatory strategies, such as through others voices, clothing, or unique physical attributes. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research to learn more about prosopagnosia. Most of the research is focused on finding better ways to prevent, treat, and ultimately cure this disorder. Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Dartmouth College, Harvard University and University College London are conducting research to learn more about the causes and treatment of prosopagnosia. They also provide a facial recognition test through www.faceblind.org(Benjamin, 2014.)

Children with congenital prosopagnosia are born with this disability and have never had a time in their lives they could recognize faces.  With greater awareness of autism, and the autism spectrum disorders, which involve communication impairments such as prosopagnosia, it’s likely to make the disorder less overlooked in the future. With greater overall awareness, the Ronna Benjamin’s and Brad Pitt’s of the world may learn earlier on how to more effectively live their lives(http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/prosopagnosia/Prosopagnosia.htm, 2007.)

Cognitive Psychology Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Goldstein, E. Bruce. 2011. Third Edition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/prosopagnosia/Prosopagnosia.htm. NONDS Prosopagnosis Information Page. 2007.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronna-benjamin/prosopagnosia_b_4255407.html. Ronna Benjamin. 2014.

4 thoughts on “Prosopagnosia

  1. Jada Ford

    In Neurological Basis of Human Behavior, we read “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”. This was a story of a man facing visual agnosia. So pronounced was his disorder, he could not put his shoe on even when right in front of it. This type of agnosia is caused by defects within the occipital and temporal lobes.
    The following source gives a more detailed synopsis of the story and the other neurological disorders:
    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v05/n09/oliver-sacks/the-man-who-mistook-his-wife-for-a-hat
    I am also curious about the dangers of prosopagnosia in children. If lost, how could they recognize their parents? From an evolutionary standpoint, i see no advantage of prosopagnosia and doubt that there is really any genetic correlation or epigenetic markers turning on/off genes regulating visual ability and facial recognition.

  2. Kayleigh Glynn Beard-maguire

    I was really intrigued with what you said about prosopagnosia in children with autism. A very good friend of mine has twin girls that are both autistic. The first time that I met them, they took very well to me, I guess this is something uncommon in most autistic children. Now when I see them, they remember me very well (my name happens to be one that is repeated frequently, even when I am not present). When I show up, Angela gives me hugs and “kisses” and then refuses to leave me. Now after reading your blog, I feel honored. I now see that most children in her case would not be able to have that recognition. Angela has had it for me since day one. It really hits home. I could not imagine not being able to recognize the faces of people that I meet. I am terrible with names! What would I do if I couldn’t remember a name or face? Thank you for making me feel even more appreciative of my relationship with Angela!

  3. krb5592

    Hi Courtney,
    You have presented a lot of good information in here in your blog and I appreciate the fact that you have included some good resources for me to do further research. I found an article written by Jordan Gains Lewis who writes for a psychology journal. According to Ms. Lewis, prosopagnosia was first thought to be brought on by a stroke, but about it is now recognized that about 2% of the general population are born with prosopagnosia. I really did not understand how someone could live with this disorder and still maintain a social life or a connection with family members and friends. Ms. Lewis stated as well that people with this disorder recognize others by voice, but even with the disorder they can recognize others by fashion, gait, body shape and other non-facial cues. It is also very interesting that you have included a well-known celebrity as probably having this disorder. Ms. Lewis also spoke about Brad Pitt who thinks he might suffer from the disorder. Here is the link to the article in case you are interested in reading: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-babble/201309/prosopagnosia-why-some-are-blind-faces

  4. Stephanie Ashley Roseman

    This blog post was definitely interesting to me and hit home as well. I had never heard of Prosopagnosia before so that caught my attention from the start. While reading I realized that these things related to me. I have always had a hard time with facial recognition. Not to such an extreme extent, but as far as recognizing the same actors in different scene’s of a movie or not mixing up someone’s face at the gym that I haven’t seen in a while. I thought it was particularly interesting the amount of people that suffer with this and never realize.

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