"Face Blindness" More Common Than Previously Thought
> 7/19/2006 10:55:19 AM

The average person sees thousands of faces over a lifetime. Which ones do we remember, and how do we do it? Why do some faces stand out, and how do these issues of perception differ from person to person? A little-known condition called prosopagnosia, or "face-blindness," is relatively common and almost certainly has genetic roots, according to a study published in the July issue of The American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A. Usually induced by a stroke or heart attack, the condition involves a reduced capacity to remember and recognize faces. Though it can be dismissed as a symptom of attention deficit or or general memory problems, prosopagnosia is very specific and may even make it more difficult to remember the faces of one's direct family. A recent New York Times article on the study describes the condition:

People with face blindness can typically understand facially expressed emotions they know whether a face is happy or sad, angry or puzzled. They can detect subtle facial cues, determine gender and even agree with everyone else about which faces are attractive and which are not. In other words, they see the face clearly, they just do not know whose face they are looking at, and cannot remember it once they stop looking.

What may seem like an obscure diagnosis is actually very common in the general population, according to related studies on a test sample of German students. Of the nearly seven hundred students tested, 2.47% displayed difficulties with recognition consistent with face-blindness. Independent tests at Harvard came to very similar conclusions. No specific gene has been located, though German researchers found that those with related conditions among family members were much more likely to display the same symptoms. Readers who are curious about their own facial recognition skills may take this related test sponsored by University College of London.

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