Have you ever come across someone you know only to find them looking at you blankly as if they have never seen you before? Has someone you have been introduced to walked straight past you without a flicker of recognition? Have you thought someone is snubbing you or ignoring you and then wondered what you have done to upset that person. Perhaps it isn't about you. It is possible the person suffers from prosopagnosia. Other names for this disorder are 'face blindness' and 'facial agnosia'. Some people just can't recognise faces.
What causes prosopagnosia? A person with prosopagnosia may have been born with the condition or it may be the result of a stroke or brain injury where the occipitotemporal lobe has been damaged. Research suggests it is more often a disorder someone is born with and that it tends to run in families. It is thought about 2 - 2.5 % of people may have prosopagnosia.
What are the symptoms of prosopagnosia? A person with this condition -
has difficulty recognising faces, even of family members
is likely to have difficulty recognising their own face in photos
may find it hard to remember information about people
may have difficulty in social situations
may be unable to estimate the age of a person
We expect others to recognise people but a person with prosopagnosia is unable to remember faces Image courtesy of Pixabay
What impact does prosopagnosia have on the person's life? While some people are able to cope well even though they have problems recognising faces, others may -
find personal relationships difficult
have career problems
avoid social situations
experience depression and/or social anxiety
What strategies do people with prosopagnosia use to help them cope? To help them recognise people, sometimes those with prosopagnosia are able to use external clues such as
way of walking
a distinctive physical feature such as a limp
Some people get into the habit of smiling at everyone, just in case they have met before.
Are there treatments available? Different treatments seem to help some people but at this time there is no widely recognised treatment for prosopagnosia. Techniques involving medication and training programs are being investigated.
As it seems approximately 1 in 50 experience prosopagnosia you will know people with this condition. It is something to keep in mind the next time you feel offended because someone doesn't recognise you.