Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia) Test and Review: A Strange Disorder

Living with a strange disorder

Imagine for a moment: you walk into your favorite bar after work to meet up with some mates. It’s dimly-lit and crowded. You check the usual corner booth for familiar faces, but they are nowhere in sight. You get discouraged, hang your head and start for the door. Just then, the people in the usual corner booth call your name and push a chair out for you. You had looked straight at them a second ago, but hadn’t recognized them.

Imagine once again: you are stopped abruptly in the street by an attractive member of the opposite sex. They are speaking to you as if they’ve known you for years. At the same time, you are thinking, “I have no idea who this person is.”

These situations maybe difficult, or even bizarre to imagine, but they’re regular situations that happen far too often for people who suffer from prosopagnosia. Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is an interesting disorder revealed just over half a century ago. The term prosopagnosia is derived from Greek: prosop meaning “face”, and agnosi meaning “without knowledge”. Accordingly, those affected with the disorder lack the ability to recognize distinguishable facial features in humans. In the most extreme cases, sufferers are unable to recognize their own mothers, or even themselves in the mirror. More common are milder cases in which the sufferer is able to identify the familiar from the unfamiliar by using groups of visual clues such as distinct facial features, voices, hair, body movements, or clothing.

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A film that gives a short description of prosopagnosia

Where does face blindness come from?

The intuitive ability to recognize faces is one that develops early on in the life of a child. During a child’s weaning period, he or she learns the skills needed to distinguish the face of their mother and father, and later applies these skills to do the same for others. Those who suffer from face blindess have somehow broken or disrupted the circuitry in the brain that's responsible for this ability. Why does that happen? Well, researchers aren't sure, but they have a good idea why.

In the past, the disorder was believed to be very uncommon, and the rare result of a brain injury or stroke. More recently, German researchers have made breakthrough discoveries about the disorder and more particularly, it’s origins. Findings published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics state that prosopagnosia, face blindess, may stem from one's genes, and is more common than previously expected. Researchers have narrowed down the cause to a single defective, yet dominant gene. In other words, if either your mother or father has prosopagnosia, then you have a 50% chance of having the disorder. Surprisingly enough, it affects nearly 1 in 50 people, though the degree varies widely. This means even you could be closer to this strange disorder than you think. Take the test below to find out. At present, there is no treatment for prosopagnosia.

Take the face blindness test

Worried you might suffer from face blindness? Test your facial recognition skills. I scored a 90%...what about you?

Living with face blindness

Watch the video

It's hard to imagine what it would be like to live with this condition. In order to learn more and get an idea of what it's like for someone who lives with prosopagnosia, watch this short documentary.

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Comments 18 comments

Nicole Davis 6 years ago

very good. very informative and clear.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 6 years ago from Northern California

Wow! What a fascinating condition. That would suck to not recognize your own face. So do they have problems distinguishing between other things, like people's bodies and stuff?


jdaviswrites profile image

jdaviswrites 6 years ago from California Author

from what i read, no. they can recognize the difference between objects (apple vs orange) like everyone else. Many will use people's bodies to help in distinguishing. This link http://www.choisser.com/faceblind/links.html gives you some bios on different people with the disorder, and how they adapt...thanks for the comment.


Azur Moon Wolf profile image

Azur Moon Wolf 6 years ago

This was very informative. Thank you for sharing. I am a sucker for tests, so of course I clicked on the link. I scored a 97%. I guess I can now officially say I never forget a face! :)


jdaviswrites profile image

jdaviswrites 6 years ago from California Author

thanks moon wolf. 97% is pretty good, you killed me


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 6 years ago from Cave Creek

Did not know about this! Wonder if it is a recognition issue, or a selective amnesia quality? Gives new value to the idea of everybody wearing name tags. Thanks for the interesting article.


jdaviswrites profile image

jdaviswrites 6 years ago from California Author

hey jstankevicz - i think it's more of the former. but there surely is more information out there on the disorder, it's all quite interesting...thanks for the comment.


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 5 years ago from Illinois

This is really interesting. My daughter was just telling me about this a couple of months ago; it was part of her psychology class. Strange - I have never heard of this condition in all my years and now I've heard about it twice in the last 2 months.


Lauren Drahos 4 years ago

37% Better than I thought Id do? I guess. : ( I hate this.


Diane Dawson 4 years ago

Oh man. Had never heard of this till last month. But this describes my Dad and I exactly. Thought I was being mugged once when a friend grabbed my arm when she saw me walking down the street. Took me at least 15 terrifying seconds to realize who she was. I always thought that I just wasn't paying enough attention. but I truly cannot distinguish people by their facial features. A friend cut her hair once and I had NO idea who she was. Even after an hour of guessing and the entire party laughing at my discomfort, she finally had to tell me who she was. It is a very infuriating and embarrassing!


Andrew Lawry 4 years ago

I was diagnosed about 7 years ago, and still learning about it. Yes I can see facces but my brain doesn't scan and compare them to previously recognised faces. It's like reading, we all recognise the letter F for example without working it out whereas a letter from Hebrew or Russian (for example) we see as a symbol, not recognising it. But we don't see Y or K or Z as "symbols" So I observe a pointy nose, high cheeks dimpled chin and that's what i see, I don't automatically see Frank, or whoever. It is so "Validating" to read other's testimonials and be able to say "That's me!" I rarely recognise myself any other time.


Andrew Lawry 4 years ago

Something I don't see mentioned in Prosopagnosia articles is recognising emotion, which is generally transmitted facially. I opten cant tell when a person is unhappy or overjoyed or mad at me. And just as a deaf person is often inarticulate, I am known as having a poker face, not able to express emotion. A ;ot of people think I am emotionless, but they are wrong, I just don't show it.


olive 4 years ago

i wonder how many people have face blindness?I think think this is preeeeeety sad. and i got a 98% on the test!!!!!!! im glad i don't have it because i woulden't recinize my bffs/ bf. they would be wondering what's wrong with her.


Dust Fairy 3 years ago

I remember studying about this in Psychology. I think it would be awful to wake up one day and not know my children or any of my family members. This was a good read. It was very interesting.


FullOfLoveSites profile image

FullOfLoveSites 2 years ago from United States

I didn't know that not recognizing a person that you've really known is a disease. Maybe if it happens too often. I once encountered a passer-by and smiled at me, and her eyes were directed at me as if she knew me. I didn't smile back but I when I looked at her she kind of frowned at me. I didn't know who that person is, but she seemed to have known me.

This really put a bad impression on me as a snob. Maybe it's a sign that I have it.


jdaviswrites profile image

jdaviswrites 2 years ago from California Author

Is it possible you put that impression on yourself?


patrick 2 years ago

HAHAHAH ^^^^


greeneyedblondie profile image

greeneyedblondie 2 years ago from Maine

I have heard of this before, it was on 60 minutes once. All of the people on that though had surgies in the brain (whether it was because of cancer tumors or something else) and had to take that part of their brain out. What I'm wondering is, instead of looking at someone's face, to look at their hair and body instead. Would that help these people?

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