Face blindness

People with face blindness are missing a ‘hub’ in their brains.

Do you find it difficult to spot a face in the crowd? Now we know why: people with face blindness seem to have a missing “hub” of brain connections. The discovery could be used to diagnose children with the condition, and teach them new ways to identify faces.

People with prosopagnosia, which often runs in families, cannot easily tell faces apart. This can have a significant impact on people’s lives. People with the condition rely heavily on voice recognition, clothes, hairstyle and gait to identify people, but can still fail to recognise family and friends. It can lead to social anxiety and depression, and can often go undiagnosed for many years.

Face processing isn’t a function of a single brain region, but involves the coordinated activity of several regions. To investigate what might be causing the problem, Galia Avidan at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 10 adults who have reported life-long problems with face processing. They also scanned 10 adults without the condition.

During the scan, participants were shown sets of images of emotional, neutral, famous and unfamiliar faces. During the task they were asked to press a button when two consecutive images were identical. Some of the images also included buildings, which people with face blindness do not have any trouble identifying – these acted as a control.