Scientists Explain Mystery of 'Face Blindness'

Facing Up to Other Disorders

The condition itself may be rare, but the findings could eventually be far-reaching. Because of the clear influence that genetic factors and brain circuitry have on the development of this condition, some experts believe that "face blindness" may be linked to other developmental disorders, such as dyslexia.

"Individuals with this condition often recognize familiar people by voice, touch, smell or other means, so patients can be trained to use other senses," said Dr. Ausim Azizi, chairperson of the department of neurology at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "In this respect, it is similar to dyslexia -- with impaired ability to read -- but learning can occur by listening."

Still, although these findings move us another step closer to unlocking the secrets of this and so many other developmental disorders, experts say that we do not know enough about prosopagnosia for the research to yield any clinical significance. However, experts say that this study is vitally important for future research on prosopagnosia and other developmental disorders.

"This [study] doesn't fully resolve why this [condition] occurs, as the authors correctly point out that genetic studies would need to be performed to determine who is at risk, and then studies could begin to understand why it occurs," said Dr. David Beversdorf, associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri.

Beversdorf added that, while a treatment for the disorder may not be on the horizon just yet, the findings "help with our understanding of congenital prosopagnosia and may allow us to better understand and track the effects of potential treatments in the future."

Learning to Cope

In the absence of any treatment for prosopagnosia, Lindenberger explained his struggle to try to train himself to depend on other senses and cues to recognize people that he knows. He has even tried in the past to retrain his brain -- but with little success.

"I didn't know what was wrong with me, and lots of times I thought I must be insensitive to people, because I don't really notice things that other people notice," Lindenberger said.

Unable to improve even slightly at his ability to recognize faces, Lindenberger created various tips and tricks to overcome the daily frustration and embarrassment of his condition.

"I've learned to rely on other cues -- a person's gait, hair style, hair color, or the sound of their voice -- to string together enough clues to make an educated guess on who the person is," he said.

And even though he can't recognize faces, he has honed his memory skills.

"I have incredible memory for details of people's lives, and anything you tell me about yourself, I will remember it," Lindenberger said. "So, one thing I learned to do was when I have a bad encounter with someone and offend them by not recognizing who they are, I find a way -- once the person explains who they are -- to inject a detail from their past to ... prove to them that I do have some interest in them and am not being callous."

But, Lindenberger added, "It is always embarrassing when I hurt someone's feelings because I should know who they are, but I just can't recognize their face."

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