Have you ever been confronted by someone who knows you, but you have no idea who they are? Don’t worry – it’s not a conspiracy or amnesia, you could simply be suffering from prosopagnosia. It’s estimated that 2% of the world’s population suffers from face blindness, and most of us don’t even realise it. Even Brad Pitt suffers from it.
The thing is, many people with the condition go undiagnosed, and its impact can be severe if undetected. Those with prosopagnosia are unable to recognise other people by their face alone. At best, they won’t recognise new faces they just met, but at its most severe, they may not even recognise their own parents and sometimes even themselves.
While this sounds like dementia or the result of a brain damage, it is actually a condition that develops from birth and is known to run in the family.
Among those born unable to distinguish between faces, there are two subtypes in the way they look at faces. Some people see the features but they can’t put them together. Others can look at a face completely, but can’t find what distinguishes them from other people’s.
There might never be a cure, but early detection gives those with prosopagnosia a chance to improve facial-recognition skills – one could be in developing elaborate compensatory strategies for recognising people, like remembering their voices, or their hairstyles.
However, take note that prosopagnosia is also one of the symptoms of a stroke.