You may never have heard of face blindness. I hadn’t. The medical term for face blindness is prosopagnosia. There are some famous people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks and primatologist Jane Goodall who have this condition.
So what exactly is face blindness?
Face blindness is a neurological condition where the person is unable to recognize faces. It is thought to be the result of a disruption of the right fusiform gyrus in the brain that appears to control facial perception and memory.
Face blindness can affect different people differently. Some only have trouble discriminating between unfamiliar faces. Others may not be able to distinguish a face from other objects.
Many people with face blindness don’t recognize their loved ones, their bosses and even themselves in the mirror.
Imagine going to pick up your child from school and you can’t recognize her. Or you just spent 20 minutes discussing an intimate problem with your doctor, but once you both have left the examination room, you no longer recognize him.
One person joked that he wanted to have his new bride wear a name tag that said “wife” so he could recognize her at their wedding.
People with face blindness have to hone in on clues like hairstyle, clothes or beards but when people change their looks, then those with face blindness stumble.
Face blindness was first discovered in the 1940s, when solders came back from the war with head injuries and they could not recognize their loved ones.
While face blindness can be the result of a stroke or other brain disturbance, it became apparent that face blindness affected others who had not had strokes.
Current research shows that people can be born with face blindness. According to CBS news, recent studies show that as many as 1 in 50 people may be face blind, and that it can be genetic.
Brad Duchaine is a professor at Dartmouth College who has been studying face blindness for nearly 15 years. Duchaine said that those with face blindness can see individual facial parts.
“There are eyes. There's a mouth. But you just can't put it together.”