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Can’t Recognize Faces? You Might Have Prosopagnosia

Can’t Recognize Faces? You Might Have Prosopagnosia

Can’t Recognize Faces? You Might Have Prosopagnosia

“I just can’t seem to recognize this face!” Do you often whisper this to yourself on seeing someone and realize later that he/she is actually a friend or acquaintance of yours? You might suffer from face blindness or prosopagnosia, a condition that makes it difficult for your brain to recognize familiar faces, including your own at times 🙂

Prosopagnosia, which derives its name from Greek words ‘prosopon’ (meaning ‘face’) and ‘agnosia’ (meaning ‘not knowing’), can be defined as a cognitive disorder which weakens the brain’s ability to perceive faces, while other aspects of visual processing and intellectual functioning remain intact. This means that a person’s memory, vision and other brain functions are normal but a fold in their brain, the fusiform gyrus, which is responsible for facial perception, is abnormal or damaged. People suffering from this condition understand the different parts of a face but are unable to recognize the patterns they lead to.

Some of the most common symptoms of this condition are –

  • Failing to recognize a close friend or family member
  • Confusing characters in movies or on television with others
  • Difficulty recognising yourself in the mirror or in old photographs

The term prosopagnosia was first used in 1947 by a German neurologist, Joachim Bodamer. Though this condition was earlier associated with brain injury, recent studies conclude that it can occur during childhood development as well. It can either be a result of stroke, a traumatic brain injury, a neuro disease or a congenital disorder (i.e., present at birth), or it can happen as a child grows.  Prosopagnosia is a very rare condition, affecting only 2.5% of the world population (Source: Wikipedia)

Prosopagnosia is often confused with prosopamnesia, which is a similar condition in which individuals cannot recognize new faces or faces encountered after acquiring the condition. The basic difference between the two conditions is perception and memory. While sufferers of prosopagnosia have difficulty perceiving faces, sufferers of prosopamnesia have difficulty memorizing faces.

Currently, there is no treatment for prosopagnosia or prosopamnesia. But people can be helped to train their brains using clues such as hairstyle, voice, style of clothing, trademark gestures of the individual, etc. to recognize people more easily.

The next time you have difficulty recognizing a face, don’t feel guilty. Don’t even say the popular Bollywood dialogue ‘maine aapko pehle bhi kahin dekha hai’(I have seen you somewhere before) Simply blame it on prosopagnosia!

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