Word Of The Day

Posted 2006.11.29 1.00 in Family/Friends

Today’s word of the day is Prosopagnosia.

Prosopagnosia is also called face-blindness. A person who has prosopagnosia is unable to recognize people by their facial features, and instead must rely on other visual or non-visual clues in order to determine who someone is. Prosopagnosia is not an eye problem, Prosopagnosics can see like anyone else.

Basically there is a portion in the human brain that is designed specifically to process facial recognition. In normal people, they recognize friends and acquaintences in a fraction of a second. Prosopagnosics may take up to 10 seconds to figure out who someone is – and by then, the someone may have already left.

It is a not-well-understood condition, but it seems it can be both inheirited, or acquired. Typically it is more easily diagnosed in those who have acquired it later in life, due to brain injury or trauma, because a) they are already seeing doctors for the injury / trauma, and b) suddenly they can’t recognize anyone so they know something is wrong. Those who were born with it often don’t realize they have it, or that it is even a condition, because they have no frame of reference to compare it to. They may only know they’re not very good at recognizing people, and chalk it up to bad memory or poor social skills.

An article in 2005 in New Scientist states that a team of scientists in Germany have been able to prove that inheirited prosopagnosia does run in families. Inheirited prosopagnosia can sometimes (but not always) be found in conjunction with other conditions, such as Topographical Agnosia (not remembering places), Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and Aspergers Syndrome. Like many neurological disorders, prosopagnosia is not all-or-nothing — Prosopagnosics experience the disorder to varying degrees.

A very good e-book describing the condition, written by a Prosopagnosic, can be found here:
Face Blind, by Bill Choisser

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