Rare Case Of Prosopamnesia Intriguing Scientists

by Medindia Content Team on  July 24, 2007 at 7:46 PM Research News
RSS Email Print This Page Comment bookmark
Font : A-A+

Rare Case Of Prosopamnesia Intriguing Scientists
A research published in Current Biology tackles a case study where the subject is unable to remember new faces.

According to University of Queensland cognitive neuroscientist Professor Jason Mattingley, the woman's condition, known as prosopamnesia, is extremely rare and has only been found in a handful of people around the world.

"For many years, scientists have been interested in how people learn to recognize new faces, and people who have difficulty with faces often have trouble interacting in social settings," he said.

The woman - whose identity remains protected - presented herself to researchers after experiencing social embarrassment when she found she was unable to recognize colleagues, people to whom she had already been introduced.

The research, in collaboration with colleagues at Macquarie and La Trobe universities, is published in this month's edition of Current Biology. The work suggests the woman's "disability" might lie in her inability to encode or recognize new faces, rather than her ability to perceive them.

"She reports relying heavily on featural cues such as hair color and style, eyeglasses, and eyebrows to recognize new acquaintances," Professor Mattingley said. On a battery of standard face-recognition tests, the woman consistently registered scores that indicated her ability to recognize new faces was severely impaired.

The woman experiences a similar difficulty in recognizing characters on television, but after months of repeated viewing could slowly learn to identify key individuals.

For example, when the woman was shown 42 images of pre-nominated movie celebrities, she correctly identified nine-out-of-10 of the faces.

The researchers also noted that it was only after six months of testing that the woman was able to recognize the faces. The group's findings were backed up by brain-imaging investigations, which indicated that the woman's exposure to an unfamiliar face, even over 'multiple encoding episodes', was not enough to leave a lasting memory.

"It may be that enduring face representations are slow to form or are degraded in quality, or they may decay rapidly following normal encoding," Professor Mattingley said. While face recognition is currently thought to be an innate capacity that human babies have at birth, aspects of this ability are probably shaped by experience.

Prosopamnesia is probably a condition linked to an irregularity during neural development, Professor Mattingley said. To add to the researchers' intrigue, the young woman has reported that some of her family members experience similar problems with face memory.

"If this is true, this woman's condition might present us with tantalizing evidence for a genetic link as well," Professor Mattingley said. While more studies are planned, the woman has placed any additional investigations on hold until she establishes her career.

Source: Eurekalert

Post a Comment

Comments should be on the topic and should not be abusive. The editorial team reserves the right to review and moderate the comments posted on the site.
Notify me when reply is posted
I agree to the terms and conditions

I believe I may have a form of this as well. I do not have trouble with perceiving faces [prosopagnosia], or recognizing people new or old in my life, but when I am not looking at someone's face I cannot bring their image into my mind's eye. I am unable to remember anyone's face no matter how long I've known them. I wonder if this actually prosopamnesia or something else entirely.


I believe I may have a form of this disorder [it is most likely caused by a head injury - a head on collision some years ago where I was thrown head first through the windshield]. Sometimes while shopping I have to remember what color shirt my husband is wearing to find him and I almost never recognize casual acquaintances or customers (I remember people who I have been in repeated contact). I wonder if this may be more common than presently believed...

I think I have this. Who would I speak to, to find out? I do not have a problem perceiving faces, it's just when I meet that person again, I more often than not do not remember them. Once I am reminded, it all comes rushing back, though (more the memory of their personality than associating the name with the face). A friend of nearly a year spoke to me yesterday, and she had changed her hairstyle. I didn't recognise her! Similarly, I was sat next to a different friend for over an hour, and did not realise it was her until she wrote her name on the register.

I have this problem all the time, and it's really embarrassing! I have felt very awkward when people have said 'long time no see!', and I've been all.. yeh.. you too.. with no idea who they are!

(I am 21 with no other learning problems)

News A - Z


News Search

Medindia Newsletters

Subscribe to our Free Newsletters!

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Find a Doctor

Stay Connected

  • Available on the Android Market
  • Available on the App Store

News Category

News Archive