It is a disorder that can have serious repercussions on the social sphere and that can be congenital but also acquired. With the help of an expert, we tried to better understand what prosopagnosia is, or the inability to distinguish human faces.
“I share prosopagnosia with Brad Pitt“. Enrica Bonaccorti recently told the story in an interview with Corriere della Sera. The presenter, recalling her beginnings on TV and her career, has in fact also revealed that she suffers from this disorder that involves serious problems from the point of view of social relations and beyond.
What exactly is it about? What are the symptoms? And how exactly is prosopagnosia diagnosed? With the advice of Dr. Barbara Zarino, psychologist and psychotherapist Humanitas Psico Medical Care we have tried to clarify.
Prosopagnosia – what is it all about?
The term prosopagnosia indicates a cognitive deficit of the central nervous system that makes it impossible to visually recognize people’s faces. In severe cases, those affected are unable to recognize even the face of their partner or their own image reflected in a mirror rather than portrayed in a photo.
The term derives from the Greek prosopon (face) and a-gnosis (without knowledge) and was coined in 1947 by the German neurologist Joachim Bodamer who described the case of a young man of 24 who, following a gunshot wound to the head, he had lost his ability to recognize faces.
According to estimates, prosopagnosia is a disease that affects 2.5% of the population, with 10% of mild, often undiagnosed forms. It goes without saying that this is a disorder that can have serious repercussions in the life of those who suffer from it, since recognizing faces is the foundation of any social interaction.
It can be congenital
There are two types of prosopagnosia. The disease can in fact be congenital and therefore be present from birth, for reasons still little known, or acquired. In the latter case, it is a disorder that can appear as a result of an injury or trauma to the temporal-occipital area of the right brain hemisphere. The disorder can be the consequence, for example, of a stroke or occur in conjunction with a degenerative disease. Not only that, prosopagnosia can also appear as a result of head trauma and brain tumors.
Diagnostic tests for prosopagnosia
How to tell if you are suffering from prosopagnosia? To date, there are several diagnostic tests capable of assessing the presence of the disease. One of these was developed in 2015 by researchers from City University London and King’s College. It is a quiz in which 10 typical situations are presented, accompanied by sentences to which the subject must assign a score from 1 to 5.
Another diagnostic tool used to highlight prosopagnosia is also the Cambridge Face Memory Test, a questionnaire of about 20 minutes in which you are asked to memorize the faces of different individuals. The test begins with very easy test questions that become progressively more challenging. Furthermore, the disorder can also be diagnosed during the neuropsychological evaluation with validated and standardized tests.
Are there any treatments for prosopagnosia?
To date, there are no therapies for this type of disorder. However, patients can be supported and helped to overcome some difficulties related to the disease. For example, learning to recognize people based on other aspects such as voice, clothing or hairstyle.
Prosopagnosia also appears in the essay The Man Who Mistaken His Wife for a Hat (1985), in which the famous neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks recounts the most bizarre clinical experiences he had with his patients. Among these, in fact, also the case of a patient suffering from prosopagnosia.
Author: Michael Zippo
Sources: VanityFair, IO Donna