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Face Blindness or Prosopagnosia (Facial Agnosia)

Face blindness or prosopagnosia impairs a person’s ability to recognize faces. A married man can wake up every day not recognizing his wife who he was sleeping with in the same bed for years. This is not a problem with his memory because if he hears her or his wife’s name is mentioned, he knows her pretty well.

This poorly understood neurological disorder often comes with other types of recognition impairment, say, place, car, facial expression, or emotion. In general though, face blindness is confined more strictly to facial identity.

It is not surprising to know about the social problems and difficulties experienced by persons suffering from the condition – imagine a person having difficulty in recognizing members of his own family, close friends, and in some cases, even themselves.

Symptoms of Prosopagnosia

While everyone normally experiences at some point in time some difficulty in face recognition or in remembering names, face blindness is on a level that is much more severe than usual forgetfulness. The difficulty in face recognition by prosopagnosics extends to people they have been seeing on a regular basis or spending most time with, like spouses or children.

To offset the impairment, people with prosopagnosia rely greatly on other information such as hair, way of walking, built, or clothing which are all non-facial features of a person. And because they have trouble even imagining the facial appearance of people they know, it is hard for them to even keep track of the identity of the famous characters in even the most popular TV shows and movies.

There are tests available online which will help assess your abilities on facial recognition. Harvard University and University College London have developed diagnostic tests for face blindness which are available through a website ( They use the data collected from such tests to determine and identify hundreds of individuals who are face blind.

Causes of Face Blindness

Documented cases of face blindness showed that the impairment had been an effect of damage in brain suffered from head trauma, degenerative diseases, or stroke. These patients before the trauma or stroke were able to recognize faces without any difficulty. After the trauma or stroke, the facial recognition ability became impaired. Cases of acquired prosopagnosia were made known to the public for two reasons:

  • The fact that they were able to recognize faces before trauma, they can notice the difficulty they experienced after the trauma.
  • Their sickness or condition (head trauma, stroke, etc.) made them always in contact with medical doctors who can detect and assess their face recognition abilities. Their assessment will then result to ordering further face recognition tests.

Developmental prosopagnosia is associated with individuals whose face blindness has genetic links (genetic prosopagnosia), or when individuals suffer prenatal brain damage (preexperiential prosopagnosia), or when individuals suffered brain damage or severe visual problems when they were very young (postexperiential prosopagnosia).

Persons with developmental prosopagnosia usually are not aware that they are unable to recognize faces as well as other people. This is because they have never recognized faces normally which makes their impairment not obvious to them. This could be the reason why there were a number of individuals who became aware of their face blindness only when they reached adulthood.

Prosopagnosia is, as mentioned earlier, a poorly understood disorder. Currently, there are very limited understanding of prosopagnosia, and this is primarily due to the few cases of face blindness that have been thoroughly investigated and studied, especially for developmental prosopagnosia.


Individuals suffering from face blindness or prosopagnosia are taught to learn other ways to remember faces. Social situations may pose anxiety and awkwardness and may cause severe shyness. We hope researchers will discover or develop new ways to help individuals with prosopagnosia improve their face recognition abilities. You may find more info and watch clips from a 60 Minutes episode about facial blindness: .



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