Developmental Prosopagnosia

What is Prosopagnosia?

Prosopagnosia or 'face blindness' is a cognitive disorder of face perception, in which the ability to learn and recognise familiar faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual and intellectual functioning remain intact. Common symptoms include: mistaking friends or family members for strangers, particularly when they have changed their appearance (e.g. cut their hair, changed clothing); finding it difficult to identify characters in TV shows and films; struggling to recognise yourself or others in photographs; and having to rely on non-facial information such as hairstyle, clothing, voice or gait when recognising others.


What causes Prosopagnosia?

Prosopagnosia has two main subtypes. In acquired prosopagnosia, face recognition difficulties develop in later life as a result of a brain injury, typically from a stroke, head injury or encephalitis. Acquired prosopagnosia is considered to be rare and is often accompanied by other perceptual problems such as difficulties in recognising objects or animals.

In developmental prosopagnosia, face recognition difficulties are present from birth/early childhood with no obvious neurological or psychological cause. The condition does, however, appear to run in families and may therefore have a genetic component. It is estimated that approximately 2% of the population – 1.3 million people in the UK - may have some degree of prosopagnosia. However, many affected individuals are unaware that they have a perceptual deficit, and that for other people face recognition is an automatic process.


How does Prosopagnosia affect a person's life?

Some individuals are able to cope fairly well with the condition by developing compensatory mechanisms to mitigate their recognition problems (e.g. identifying others by their hairstyle clothing or voice). However, for other people, prosopagnosia can have a significant effect on their every day functioning. Research has shown that it can cause people to avoid social situations, negatively affect their career prospects and in severe cases lead to social anxiety and depression.


What can I do if I think I have Developmental Prosopagnosia?

If you believe that you may have developmental prosopagnosia and live within travelling distance of Teesside University, we may be able to offer you a formal screening appointment and the opportunity to participate in our research. During the screening we will ask you to complete a range of cognitive tasks, which will be used to assess whether your face recognition problems fit the profile of developmental prosopagnosia or not.

There are currently no formal treatments available for prosopagnosia, however, some individuals find it useful to develop compensatory techniques to aid recognition (e.g. using hairstyle, distinguishing features, voices etc.). At Teesside University, our current research aims to identify factors which might help to improve face recognition in individuals with developmental prosopagnosia, with the hope of being able to develop an effective treatment.