Shining a light on face blindness

Face blindness, or Prosopagnosis, is a common condition that affects around two in every 100 people in the UK, but relatively little is known about why it occurs and the psychological effect it has on people’s lives.

Researchers at Teesside University are hoping to raise awareness about this developmental disorder, which is an inability to recognise people from their facial features alone. In extreme cases, people cannot recognise family members and friends.

In extreme cases, people cannot recognise family members or friends. 

Laura Sexton, a PhD student in Teesside University’s School of Social Sciences, Business & Law, is carrying out research into face blindness with her supervisor, Dr Natalie Butcher, Senior Lecturer in Psychology. She says: “Prosopagnosia affects people in different ways and for some they don’t even realise it is a legitimate condition due to a general lack of awareness.

“For others it can be very hard to cope with and leads to anxiety, stress, embarrassment and feelings of guilt.

“Screening is important in that it allows us to develop a better understanding of the condition. First we need to determine if it is Prosopagnosia and not another underlying issue. Then we need to examine the severity of each case and find out people’s coping mechanisms and how it affects them psychologically.”

The team have set up a screening centre, believed to be the first of its kind in the region, so that people who suspect they have the condition, can be tested for Prosopagnosia.

The team have set up a screening centre, believed to be the first of its kind in the region.

They are encouraging people who feel they may suffer from face blindness to come forward for screening tests in order to find out more about the condition.

People with face blindness often use non-facial cues to recognise others, such as their hairstyle, clothes, voice, or distinctive features. Many describe a fear and avoidance of social situations, such as family gatherings or meetings at work.

Thea Jourdan: Thea Jourdan is the founder and editorial director of Hippocratic Post as well as being Editor of Apothecary, the journal of the Worshipful Society of the Apothecaries of London, and a contributor to the Good Health section of the Daily Mail. She sits on the executive committee of the Medical Journalists’ Association.
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