Prosopagnosia Causes and Treatment

A Rare Disease Known as Face Blindness

Think of the faces of those that mean the most to you—your parents, siblings, friends, a significant other, your children. Now imagine waking up one day and not being able to recognize any of them. What sounds like the plot of a science fiction novel is an actual medical condition known as prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize or distinguish faces.

Man sitting in a boardroom with a unrecognizable face
 FangXiaNuo / Getty Images

Why Prosopagnosia Is Known as Face Blindness

Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, may come with difficulties recognizing other things like facial cues and places. In addition to being unable to identify family members and close friends, people with prosopagnosia may find it difficult to recognize themselves. Those with the condition are thereby forced to develop different ways of identifying people.

While a 2006 literature review identified only 100 cases of prosopagnosia in the medical literature, more recent research suggests that around 2% percent of the general public may have some level of prosopagnosia.

There are two types of prosopagnosia: congenital prosopagnosia and acquired prosopagnosia.

Congenital Prosopagnosia

Some people are born without the ability to recognize faces, known as congenital or developmental prosopagnosia. Children with this type of face blindness may not realize their inability to recognize faces until they are much older.

Congenital prosopagnosia is not caused by any structural differences in the brain or brain damage. Some researchers believe that congenital prosopagnosia may be inherited since the condition tends to run in families.

Congenital prosopagnosia may also be present in children with autism. An inability to recognize faces may cause or contribute to their impaired social skills.

Acquired Prosopagnosia

Acquired prosopagnosia may occur after brain damage from a head injury, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases.

Individuals with this type of prosopagnosia were previously able to recognize faces. Research suggests they are unlikely to gain back this ability, though they may learn to compensate.

Causes

The neurological basis for prosopagnosia is not well understood.

One theory is that the condition is the result of abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus—the part of the brain that coordinates neural systems controlling facial perception and memory.

For congenital cases, the cause might be related to genetics.

In 2012, doctors at Stanford temporarily implanted electrodes in the brain of a patient with prosopagnosia and discovered two nerve clusters integral in perceiving faces.

There is some disagreement in the scientific literature about whether prosopagnosia is a general disorder of recognition or a face-specific problem. It may be that there are different types of prosopagnosia, each with their own set of symptoms.

Treatment

There are no cures or treatments for prosopagnosia. Those with prosopagnosia must learn other ways of remembering faces. Clues such as hair, voice, and clothes may help identify people.

Social situations may be awkward for people with prosopagnosia, causing them to become shy and withdrawn. Therapy can help treat any anxiety or depression related to the condition.

Researchers are currently working on ways to help individuals with prosopagnosia improve their face recognition.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Prosopagnosia information page. Updated 2019.

  2. Bouvier SE, Engel SA. Behavioral deficits and cortical damage loci in cerebral achromatopsia. Cereb Cortex. 2006;16(2):183-91. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhi096

  3. Arizpe JM, Saad E, Douglas AO, Germine L, Wilmer JB, DeGutis JM. Self-reported face recognition is highly valid, but alone is not highly discriminative of prosopagnosia-level performance on objective assessmentsBehav Res Methods. 2019;51(3):1102-1116. doi:10.3758/s13428-018-01195-w

  4. Wegrzyn M, Garlichs A, Heß RWK, Woermann FG, Labudda K. The hidden identity of faces: a case of lifelong prosopagnosia. BMC Psychol. 2019 Jan 22;7(1):4. doi:10.1186/s40359-019-0278-z

  5. Corrow SL, Dalrymple KA, Barton JJ. Prosopagnosia: current perspectivesEye Brain. 2016;8:165-175. doi:10.2147/EB.S92838

  6. Bate S, Bennetts RJ. The rehabilitation of face recognition impairments: a critical review and future directions. Front Hum Neurosci. 2014;8:491. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00491

  7. Dalrymple KA, Corrow S, Yonas A, Duchaine B. Developmental prosopagnosia in childhoodCogn Neuropsychol. 2012;29(5-6):393-418. doi:10.1080/02643294.2012.722547

  8. Parvizi J, Jacques C, Foster BL, et al. Electrical stimulation of human fusiform face-selective regions distorts face perception. J Neurosci. 2012;32(43):14915-20. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2609-12.2012