What is Face Blindness?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2019
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Face blindness is a neurological disorder that can take a number of different forms but, in general, results in the inability of a person to properly recognize and identify others due to facial features. There are different forms of this disorder and the severity of this condition can vary quite a bit, from an inability to make sense of people’s faces to not remembering and recognizing faces. This condition was initially believed to only occur as a result of brain damage, but a congenital, likely genetic, version seems to exist as well. Face blindness can manifest in adults and children and can make social interactions quite difficult.

Technically referred to as prosopagnosia, a combination of the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge,” face blindness is a fairly rare but serious neurological disorder. Someone suffering from this condition is generally unable to properly recognize faces, those of others and of himself or herself. This condition can take several different forms, but in any form it can make social interactions difficult and can be especially difficult for children who often assume others view faces in the same way they do. Associative prosopagnosia is a form of face blindness in which a person is able to recognize facial features and make sense of a person’s face, but cannot recognize or recall who the person is based purely on facial features.


Apperceptive prosopagnosia, on the other hand, is a condition in which the person is unable to make sense of faces and cannot visually assemble the separate parts of a face into a coherent whole. Someone suffering from this form of the disorder will typically not be able to distinguish between different people based on facial features, let alone recognize those people. Developmental prosopagnosia refers to the congenital form of face blindness that develops in childhood and persists throughout a person’s life. In any form of face blindness, a person will typically find other ways to recognize people he or she knows, often through hair styles and colors, voice, clothing choices, or individual facial features that he or she does not recognize as a whole.

Part of what makes face blindness interesting for neurologists is that it suggests people identify and recognize faces differently from anything else. Many people who suffer from prosopagnosia can clearly recognize and identify other objects and body parts, and only have difficulty with faces. There is also research to suggest that facial recognition is composed of multiple neurological and psychological aspects. Tests on people with face blindness have shown a physiological response when viewing faces of friends and family, responses that indicate subconscious emotional reactions, even though on a conscious level the person does not recognize the faces.



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