I have Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness)

Last weekend, I was cruising through the financial blogs and I ran across a post by Lazy Man and Money, where he admitted he had Prosopagnosia.  The reason he posted about it was to bring awareness to this unusual condition.  I also have Prosopagnosia and I would like to bring awareness to my readers.  

What is Prosopagnosia?

Girl in a Turquoise Mask

Image by D. Sharon Pruitt

Prosopagnosia is a condition which makes it difficult for some people to recognize faces.  Facial perception is impaired, but this doesn’t affect their ability to recognize other objects.  This condition affects roughly 2.5% of the population. 

My experience has been that I don’t have any trouble recognizing people I see a lot or others I am close to.  But, people I have met briefly or people who have changed their appearance can present some problems for me.  I also have trouble recognizing people who have aged, such as teenagers who have become adults. 

What it’s Like

It’s hard to describe this condition to someone who hasn’t experienced it.  It’s even harder to describe why it’s a problem.  But, when someone walks up to greet you and you can’t recognize them, it’s really embarrassing.  Often, it sends me into a panic, because I know this person, but I can’t recognize them.  The look on my face is a dead giveaway and they become confused.  There is no way to fake it or recover gracefully.  They think you have forgotten about them and it makes them feel like you don’t care. 

Before I learned about Prosopagnosia earlier this year, I thought I was losing my mind.  I thought I may have early indicators of dementia or some other form of degenerative mental problem.  Then, I remembered that I had this problem back in school as a child.  I remembered not recognizing a girl I had dated, after she changed her hair style.  And, she wasn’t too happy about it.  Unfortunately, it was just the beginning of my problems and it continues to haunt me to this day.


Why I’m Telling You

This is only the third time I have told anyone about my condition.  In fact, my immediately family doesn’t even know, including my wife and Mom.  Only two people know and that’s because I couldn’t recognize them and I had to explain why.  When I told them I had Prosopagnosia they seemed pretty doubtful it was really a condition.  I even emailed my co-worker a link so she would understand Prosopagnosia and why I couldn’t recognize her. 

Now that I understand my condition and am no longer embarrassed about it, I feel it’s time to bring it out in the open.  There are two reasons I want to share my experience.  First, I want to create awareness, in case you know someone who has it.  Second, I want to enlighten others who may have Prosopagnosia and not know about it.  Not knowing what was happening to me was the worst part.  I would love to save someone else the fear and embarrassment. 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that you can’t hide from problems in your life; you have to face them head on.  The first step in facing a problem is understanding what it is.  Once you know the cause, you are half way to solving the problem.  

“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”  

Groucho Marx – American Actor and Comedian  

Recommended Reading

Lazy Man and Money – I have Prosopagnosia (and Personal Finance Links)
Medicine Online – Can’t recognize faces? It may be Prosopagnosia
Prosopagnosia Research Center –

18 comments to I have Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness)

  • Yikes! What a terribly frustrating condition, Bret.

    You know, I sometimes have trouble recognizing people I haven’t seen in a really long time, but I don’t think it is because of prosopagnosia. I think it is just a poor memory.

    I assume there is no cure?

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com

    • Len,

      I also have a poor memory, especially for names, but it’s not the same thing. There is no cure at this point, but just the awareness helps me a lot. I now pay a lot more attention to visual cues when I meet people, so I can recognize them later on.

  • Hi Bret, I’m glad that you know what’s happening and that you’re no longer embarrassed about it. I’ve heard of this before and it seemed like it would be frustrating. I can somewhat relate as I have some weird brain quirks (that don’t have a name) and people often assume I’m being difficult on purpose.
    Jennifer Barry recently posted..Stranger in His Own Land- Part 10My Profile

    • Jennifer,

      It is frustrating and embarassing more than anything. I guess we all have some brain quirks, some are just more obvious than others.

  • I admire you for writing about the condition. Awareness of any condition is important so people can understand (and believe you) when you tell them why they’re not recognized.

    I won’t feel bad now if you don’t know me at the next SoCal blogger meeting.
    Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer recently posted..2011 Goals and PlansMy Profile

    • Thanks Kay Lynn.

      I see you often enough that recognizing you shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, your face doesn’t change much. Just don’t be surprised if I walk right by you after you change your hair. 😉

  • This happens to me all the time with people from elementary and even many people from high school; I just cannot for the life of me recognize them. I actually did a facial recognition test online and scored only 70%, whereas two of my coworkers got 98%. It doesn’t bother me too much in everyday life, but I never knew there was actually a name of the condition. I don’t know if I have that or if my memory is just a little worse than the average, though. The most frustrating thing is when other people are likely to abscribe this to poor intention, when it is really just our bodies & minds that are not always up to par. It’s always better when we at least understand what’s going on; glad that you can point to a definite cause, instead of having to worry if you’re going crazy or not!
    Invest It Wisely recently posted..My Favorite Yakezie Scholarship EssaysMy Profile

    • Kevin,

      I was glad to find out it wasn’t just me who had this condition. I suspect a lot of people are just like me and won’t admit it, especially if they don’t know the cause.

      I was going to take the facial recognition test but I ran out of time. I will definitely have to do that today.

  • I admire you writing about this to spread awareness and glad that you are no longer embarrassed. I can imagine how frustrating it would be. I have a problem too, but only my husband and parents know about it. So I totally get where you are coming from. I still don’t have the guts to explain to people about my condition. Some day…
    Suba @ Wealth Informatics recently posted..Diagnose your financial health – Do an annual wealth checkupMy Profile

    • Thanks Suba,

      I didn’t have the guts either, for a long time. I think the main reason I didn’t tell anyone was because I didn’t understand what was happening myself and I didn’t want to freak anyone out. Just finding out my condition had a name and was fairly common gave me a lot more confidence.

  • Bret,

    Very good that you had the courage to step out and share that you have his condition, and to make people aware of it – which gives folks encouragement to be open and honest about their own issues. It’s important for people to come to terms with certain personal issues, so this post is really a good thing along those lines.

    Thanks for sharing this information that you’ve more or less kept to yourself. It seems like you have a healthy perspective on it.
    Squirrelers recently posted..5 Rules for Achieving Debt-Free LivingMy Profile

    • Thanks Wise Squirrel.

      I try to keep a healthy perspective on most things. It never helps to get upset about things that go wrong. If you can’t change it, why worry about it?

  • Bret,

    I’m impressed with your courage, spreading awareness to your readers! Thanks for giving me something new to take a look at (that I didn’t know about yesterday).

    PKamp3 recently posted..Facebook vs the IPOMy Profile

  • Paul,

    For the number of people it affects and the fact that Prosopagnosia was first diagnosed in 1947, public awreness is pretty low.

    Somebody has to start spreading the word.

  • I couldn’t imagine something like that, how does one go about getting diagnosed so they know they have the condition?

    I think it’s really brave that you were able to share your story with the world, I give you kudos for that.
    Ryan recently posted..Top 10 Personal Finance SoftwareMy Profile

    • Ryan,

      There is a link above to a facial recognition test you can take. I haven’t taken it yet, because I’m not sure I want to know how bad my case is. I will probably man-up and take this test when I get a quiet moment.

      Prosopagnosia is something I knew I had, even before I knew what it was. As soon as I read about it, I knew I had it my whole life.

  • First of all, thank-you for posting this:).

    I have prosopagnosia, and the worst part is not knowing how to tell people when it happens. Just a couple of days ago a woman approached me at the bank that I see probably 3 times/week at my son’s small preschool. I’ve talked with her numerous times, but had no idea who she was. It’s embarrassing and incidentally hurtful, and there is little I can do about it. If I were to try to explain the disorder in the moment, it would be very socially awkward. If I mention it out-of-context? Equally – if not more bizarre. Again, this happens chronically, and obviously seriously impacts my ability to have social relationships with the multitude of acquaintances in my life.

    I believe that my symptoms are due to having severe, uncorrected myopia until age 7 during the time that the brain learns to perceive the complexity of facial recognition. Since this disorder is surprisingly common (about 1 in 50), please remember this if you run into someone you know that doesn’t appear to know you:).

    • You are very welcome. Awareness is way too low considering millions of people have this condition. It is incredibly embarrassing, both for the person who has Prosopagnosia and the person who isn’t recognized.

      What I have done recently is to send a short email explaining my condition, with a link to the description. If you don’t know someone’s email address, it’s very difficult to describe verbally. You either apear uncaring or unintelligent and I haven’t figured out what to say to overcome this.

      One thing I have learned is to silently repeat people’s names when I meet them and to look for visual clues besides their face. That way, I associate their name with the visual clue, even if I don’t recgnize their face. This doesn’t always work, but it increases my chances recognizing someone.