What It’s Like to Be Profoundly Face-Blind

Alexa Tsoulis-Reay in New York Magazine:

FaceProsopagnosia is a neuropsychological condition that impairs the sufferer’s ability to recognize faces. It’s also known as face-blindness, and those who are afflicted lack a skill that comes naturally to most humans, forcing them to find ways to work around this deficit. Oliver Sacks, the face-blind neurologist, relied on distinguishing features like flaming red hair or heavy glasses to identify his best school friends, but he still had difficulties: Once, he ignored his own psychiatrist when he saw him in the lobby shortly after their session (as he wrote in the New Yorker, his assistant would instruct their dinner-party guests to wear name tags).

The artist Chuck Close managed his condition through his work — after photographing his larger-than-life portraits, he could remember the person attached to the face: “Once I change the face into a two-dimensional object, I can commit it to memory,” he once told a newspaper. Face-blindness is generally accompanied by a raft of problems, including a lack of interest in people, social anxiety, inattentiveness, and various phobias (Sacks avoided conferences or large gatherings). According to the National Institutes of Health, face-blindness “is thought to be the result of abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus, a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems that control facial perception and memory.” At the moment, there aren’t any treatments that are known to be effective — management of the condition, the NIH notes, should focus on “develop[ing] compensatory strategies.”

More here.