Prosopagnosia: face-Blindness

Prosopagnosia (Greek for “prosopon” = “face” and “agnosia” = “not knowing”)

Brad Pitt famously said that he suffered from prosopagnosia.

Some time ago I went to meet one of my brain-injured clients, let’s call him James. We had a long meeting about his case before saying farewell.

Less than an hour later, I was gathering my papers ready to go home for the day. I spotted James and waved.

Initially he turned away as though he wanted to check if the greeting had been directed at him. Realising that there was no one else around he approached my wearily before smiling and waving back.  He apologised that he hadn’t recognised me as I had been wearing grey earlier and now was in a blue coat.

This might have seemed strange if I had not been aware of his prosopagnosia as a consequence of his brain injury.

You see James can not recognise faces. He can only identify me from my build, the colour of my hair, my voice, and even my gait, but not my facial features. Despite seeing me only an hour before my appearance had changed i.e. the colour of my clothing, which made it difficult for James to identify me.

A prosopagnosia sufferer Glenn Alperin describes his affliction on his own website as, “Imagine that every person has a camera inside their head. Every time they meet somebody for the first time, they take a picture with their camera, develop the picture, and file it away for future use. …For me, I take a picture with my camera, but I never store it away.”

About 2 % of the population are born with the condition but most experience problems as a result of brain damage, such as a stroke affecting a particular brain region.

The region of the brain shown to activate specifically in response to faces is called the fusiform gyrus. The fusiform gyrus is located in both the occipital lobe (responsible for visual processing) and the temporal lobe (responsible for retaining visual memories).

Damage to the fusiform gyrus and neighbouring parahippocampal gyrus have been implicated in the disorder.

Prosopagnosia sufferers also commonly experience problems with color perception or environmental disorientation (difficulty using landmarks to track their surroundings).

People with prosopsagnosia often become highly attuned to non-facial cues, such as fashion, voice, gait, and body shape. These skills result in the condition being overlooked in compensation claims and often make it difficult for doctors to recognise and treat prosopagnosia.

In all honesty neuroscientists don’t really understand in detail how the brain processes, stores and recalls faces.

Babies show the capacity to recognise faces as young as six months of age. This ability allows children to identify their caretakers and as we develop we can identify traits of a potential mates’ health and attractiveness.

It is essential to instruct an expert to ensure that conditions such as prosopagnosia are not overlooked when consideration your compensation claim. It is also essential that such problems are considered when assessing whether or not a brain injury might have been suffered.