The human mind is truly an incredible thing. Despite being studied by top scientists and researchers for decades, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding it. Science has been able to isolate strange phenomena of the mind but hasn’t been able to explain their origins. While most of us are familiar with Déjà vu, there are at least 9 other strange phenomena of the mind. This article on Prosopagnosia is the first in a series where we’ll talk about all 10 of these phenomena.
What is Prosopagnosia?
Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognize faces, and it is possible that a person will be affected for most of his life. Most people affected by this phenomenon are not even able to recognize their partners, friends and family members. Can you imagine that? Although there are ways to cope, such as remembering how the people you know walk, talk, do their hairstyle or dress, compensation strategies like these don’t always work. The name prosopagnosia is coined from the greek word for face (prosopon) and the medical term for recognition impairment (agnosia).
Symptoms of Prosopagnosia
Most people have difficulty recognizing faces. It’s more common that we sometimes have challenges remembering people’s names. But prosopagnosia is way more serious than these incidents that we all experience at one time or another. People affected by this strange phenomenon find it difficult recognizing people who they encounter frequently. In extreme cases, affected individuals may have trouble recognizing people they spend a lot of their time with on a daily basis, such as their kids.
One of the key signs of this condition is relying on non-facial details such as gait, hair, voice, clothing and other bits of information. Prosopagnosics find it hard keeping up with the plot of a TV show or movie since it’s hard for them to keep up with the identities of the characters.
What Can Cause It?
Most prosopagnosia cases are due to some form of post-maturity brain damage, such as stroke, head trauma and degenerative conditions. These cases are referred to as acquired prosopagnosia, where the affected people used to have normal ability to recognize faces, but were then impaired. They are aware of this impairment since they experienced normal ability to recognize faces in the past and they can note the difference. The fact that they interact with medical professional while seeking help for the damage means that they’ll be exposed to face recognition tests. If you have noticed or experienced a decline in your ability to recognize faces, you ought to contract a neurologist immediately. Such deterioration may indicate a problem that needs to be looked into immediately.
In the case of developmental prosopagnosia, this problem is manifested before the individual develops a full ability to recognize faces (human beings are able to mature this capability at teenage age). Developmental prosopagnosia usually refers to individuals whose condition is genetic. These may be people who experience brain damage before they have experience with faces (e.g. prenatal brain damage). Individuals who suffer from serious visual problems or brain damage during childhood may also be affected. Although it could be hard to identify the reason behind prosopagnosia, many times individuals who are affected, or their family members, will be aware of incidents that might have led to brain damage.
Developmental prosopagnosics hardly realize their inability to recognize faces. Their impairment is not apparent. It’s difficult for them to notice because people who are otherwise normal will rarely discuss how they use faces to identify people. As a result of this, there are people who still do not recognize their condition well into adulthood.
What Impact Can It Have?
Severe prosopagnosia can disrupt the flow of normal life, and some people may avoid social situations and develop social anxiety disorder. When this happens, there’s the possibility that it’ll affect relationships and careers. Some people may be unable to recognize facial expressions, judge a person’s age or gender and follow a person’s gaze.
They may not even be able to recognize their own reflections in the mirrors. Prosopagnosia has been known to affect your ability to recognize places and objects such as cars. Not to forget, it’s usually hard to follow the plot of TV programs or movies.
How Common Is It?
The Center for Face processing Disorders located at Bournemouth University says that acquired prosopagnosia is rare. However, the developmental form of this condition appears to be more common, affecting up to 1 in every 50 people in the UK alone. That’s about 1.5 million people in one country alone. There’s no particular treatment for prosopagnosia, but researchers have formulated training programs that are meant to repair facial recognition. There are also numerous coping strategies that can help improve the quality of life for people suffering from this strange phenomenon of the mind.