Tag Archives: Developmental Prosopagnosia

Leading researchers and prosopagnosics on Australian radio show about the extremes of face memory ability

Malcolm, Lynne What’s in a face? Prosopagnosia. All in the Mind. Radio National. February 19th 2017.



Dean, Diane Prosopagnosia: What it’s like to live with ‘face blindness’. ABC News. February 20th 2017.



There’s a link to the Cambridge Face Memory Test at the webpage for the radio show.

Sad but not surprising that prosopagnosics can be mistakenly perceived as having a personality issue rather than a perception issue.

I’ve got an anecdote that is rather like the opposite of the one shared by Dr Karl in the radio show, in which he came to understand that he had an unusual problem in recognizing fellow-students at university. Just this week I recognized (with no foreknowledge) a student that I once shared a tutorial group with when the student made a very brief appearance as an actor in a television advertisement. Nice! I wish him the best of luck in his acting career. He was working in a series of health promotion ads that consistently feature better acting than that often seen on the TV shows.

In case you are wondering, the music used in the radio show were two hits of the 70’s; that famous tune by Grace Jones and at the end the big hit by Roberta Flack.

The search for an effective intervention for prosopagnosia continues, but at least the knowledge of what is going on must be some help to people who face this challenge.



Memory is fallible, but then again, there’s super-recognizers

It appears that super-recognizers (people with very good face recognition ability) are mentioned in the new book The Memory Illusion by Dr Julia Shaw, but I cannot find a preview of that bit of text. I’d be interested in reading what Shaw wrote about supers, because I believe that we are very good evidence against the argument that this book, and some other pop psychology books have offered, that human memory is unreliable and open to interference. I’ve noticed that writing by researchers and authors who offer arguments against the reliability of human memory and also those who offer arguments against the idea of natural or inborn talent tend to ignore or gloss over the many things that science already knows about face recognition, face memory and super-recognizers.

I’m happy to admit that people who perform amazing feats of semantic memory such as remembering huge lists of random facts or meaningless digits using new or ancient memory techniques have trained their own memories with many hours of practice, but super-recognizers are very different to those people. We do not knowingly or deliberately train ourselves and we do not consciously use tricks or techniques. Maybe we self-train and invent strategies in an implicit manner, but it is also true that super-recognition does seem to run in families, so there seems to be an important genetic contribution to the elite ability or talent, just as there is clearly a genetic component to developmental prospagnosia (very poor face recognition ability).

Face memory researchers have been investigating the phenomenon of super-recognition since it was first described in 2009, and there seems to be ample evidence that supers have very long-lasting, adaptable, and reliable memory of the faces of other humans. We can remember faces across many decades and across changes in facial appearance by forces such as ageing. I believe I am very good at spotting facial family resemblance and facial phenotypes across gender and age. Super-recognizers can also display very accurate face recognition after being briefly shown images of only faces (no hair etc) of a large group of faces of same gender and similar age, some of them very degraded images. This accuracy requires being able to avoid false positives and false negatives. There’s no denying that supers are bloody good at faces. There’s also no denying that some other people are very poor at face memory, so authors of these pop psychology books that denigrate human memory are able to state with a vague air of truth that human memory for faces is fallible. But such a statement ignores what we know about supers, and this is why I have issues with the common practice of psychology researchers of roputinely discarding data from outliers in their studies. If any of that discarded data is from outlier study participants that did incredible well in tests of face recognition or memory, then those participants could be supers and their data tells an important story about human memory and human face recognition.

I think supers are interesting examples of a type of human memory that stands out from other types of human memory as reliable, long-lasting, easily or unconsciously enmcoded and accurate, so one should wonder, why is the face memory of supers so great? My bet is that this niche example of human memory has two characteristics that give it special power: it is disributed across a broad network of neurons throughout the brain (and this is why it might be found along-side synaesthesia), and it is also a type of visual memory, which I can only assume is a very ancient and well-evolved type of human memory that predates stuff like writing and language, that happens in areas of the brain that work amazingly and unconsciously because they evloved well before there ever were humans. I cannot imagine how genuine face memory could ever be interfered with by suggestion or manipulation, because the tricks that some memory researchers have used to fool around with the memories of study participants work on a conscious level communicated by verbal means. Genuine face memory is implicit and visual. It is safe from such nonsense.

The Memory Illusion by Dr Julia Shaw:



New developmental prosopagnosia research hot off the web

While I was looking at the website of the Journal of Neuroscience I found this interesting and important free access article:

Michael Lohse, Lucia Garrido, Jon Driver, Raymond J. Dolan, Bradley C. Duchaine, and Nicholas Furl Effective Connectivity from Early Visual Cortex to Posterior Occipitotemporal Face Areas Supports Face Selectivity and Predicts Developmental Prosopagnosia. Journal of Neuroscience. 30 March 2016, 36(13): 3821-3828; doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3621-15.2016


What is face selectivity? I’ll have to do a bit of study on that.

For me the findings of this study are not surprising, even though there are apparently new ideas in this paper about face selectivity and developmental prosopagnosia (DP). As a synaesthete who also appears to be a “super-recognizer” of faces from a family in which precociously high levels of literacy skills are found, I firmly believe that the common thread that runs through synaesthesia, literacy skills and face memory is good to exceptional connectivity inside the brain. My ideas are supported by research that has linked synaesthesia with hyper-connectivity, and has linked dyslexia and DP with problems with connectivity.

Not one but four recently published studies of super-recognition!!!!

And all bar one are open access! Please readers let me know if there are more studies on supers out there.


Bobak A, Parris B, Gregory N, Bennetts R, Bate S (2016) Eye-Movement Strategies in Developmental Prosopagnosia and “Super” Face Recognition. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Posted online: 02 Mar 2016. DOI:10.1080/17470218.2016.1161059


The above paper interesting as it apparently supports the idea that developmental prosopagnosia is a heterogeneous condition and at least the most severe cases are not simply the bottom end of a spectrum of ability. The authors do seem to regard supers as the top end of a spectrum though. Researchers also found that supers and able controls spent more time looking at noses, a finding which I think I recall from another study. It makes sense to me as I feel that great face recognition ability is an automatic and involuntary process (like synaesthesia) that involves perception of the face as a whole “landscape”.


Bobak AK, Dowsett AJ, Bate S (2016) Solving the Border Control Problem: Evidence of Enhanced Face Matching in Individuals with Extraordinary Face Recognition Skills. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0148148. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148148




Bobak AK, Hancock PJB, Bate S. Super-recognisers in Action: Evidence from Face-matching and Face Memory Tasks. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 2016;30:81–91. doi: 10.1002/acp.3170



Robertson DJ, Noyes E, Dowsett AJ, Jenkins R, Burton AM (2016) Face Recognition by Metropolitan Police Super-Recognisers. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0150036. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150036



Anna Bobak and Dr Sarah Bate have been busy!


A family with multiple prosopagnosics and a super? That’s interesting.

Daily Mail article about K C Andrew, a British lady with prosopagnosia:


Some quotes from the article are very thought-provoking:

“I recognise faces in animated things. I often describe people as looking like cartoons, actually – drawings are so much easier for me,’ she explained.”

Researchers could test that, no doubt. Could this be a clue to the exact nature of what does not work in face recognition of people with prosopagnosia, or just in this case in particular?

As is also the case in other personal accounts of living with prosopagnosia, K C Andrew uses other visible characteristics of people to identify them, such as gait and mannerisms, and I think some info given in the article hints that Ms Andrew could have developed a superior ability in memorizing and identifying these things. Should we look for unknown special abilites in prosopagnosia? Might it be linked to some specific superiority in perception as in colour-blindness?


Two interesting articles about the experience of developmental prosopagnosia

Kate Szell  Face blindness – when you can’t recognise a familiar face. Guardian. November 23rd 2014.



Alexa Tsoulis-Reay What It’s Like to Be Profoundly Face-Blind. Science of Us. NYMag.com July 9th 2015.


Randomly finding studies that have un-noted super-recognizers in them

Don’t assume that if face memory researchers find that they have study subjects who get scores typical of super-recognizers that they will note this fact in the paper or will interpret the data to inquire about the characteristics of super-recognizers. In random internet clicking I keep coming across studies that have super-recognizers in them, and which also appear to have no comment in them about this finding.

Joshua M. Davis, Elinor McKone, Hugh Dennett, Kirsty B. O’Connor, Richard O’Kearney and Romina Palermo Individual Differences in the Ability to Recognise Facial Identity Are Associated with Social Anxiety. PLOS One. Published: December 14, 2011. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028800. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028800

There are two subjects in this study who got scores in the super-recognizer range (71-72 in the short form of the Cambridge Face Memory Test) and three who were pretty darned close with scores of 70, and there were also eleven subjects who scored in the prosopagnosia range of 42 or less in the CFMT short form.

The study measured social anxiety and other things, so what were the findings in relation to the supers and social anxiety? From what I’ve read the cut-off point for social phobia is 36 or more on the SIAS, and none of the supers were anywhere near that, but that is also true for the majority of the subjects who got face memory scores in the prosopagnosia range. Plenty of study subjects got SIAS scores in the social phobia range, but only one of them also had a CFMT score in the prosopagnosia range. Social phobia clearly isn’t explained by issues in face recognition. The study did find a weak correlation between poorer face memory and social anxiety, but I’m surprised that a stronger positive relationship was not found because I think face memory must be pretty important in social functioning. I offer the Dunning-Kruger Effect as an explanation for the weakness of the correlation found. People who don’t know often don’t know what they don’t know and maybe even don’t know that they don’t know. Ignorance is bliss, so they say, and I see evidence of it all around me every day.

In my opinion, the alternative explanation offered to explain the slight correlation between social anxiety and poorer face recognition, that social anxiety could cause the development of poorer face recognition ability, seems unlikely. Kids who are scared of other kids would surely want to keep tabs on who is who, because such kids are likely to be bully-magnets, and certainly not all kids are bullies. I would think in such a situation, a child would have great personal interest in telling the difference between bullies, allies and the general mob, and face memory would seem to be the best tool for this task. That’s just a theory, and often sensible-sounding theories are totally counter to reality, so more research is definitely desirable on this question.

Here’s another study that has super-recognizers in it, but which doesn’t specifically mention or discuss super-recognizers or superrecognition:


[this article to be completed later]

New paper about study of face processing in developmental prosopagnosia on oxytocin

The paper is open access, so you don’t need to pay to read the whole thing. Is “face processing” the same thing as “face memory” or “face recognition”? When I’ve got more time I’ll have a good look at this study and see. I have noted that this is a quite small study (10 DPs, 10 controls), so let’s not get too excited about the findings.


Two bits of interesting information about the Cambridge Face Memory Test can be found within this paper.  The authors advise that some people with developmental prosopagnosia can achieve a normal score on the CFMT by using “effective compensatory strategies”. I’m curious about how that is done, because I thought the CFMT was pretty much cheat proof. It is also revealed that two new versions of the CFMT were created for this study.

I plan to write more about this paper but right now my garden requires attention. And after that the turquoise coastline lined with fine white sand near where we live will require attention.

Brain stimulation study with prosopagnosics in the works

According to the news at the website of the Banissy Lab, Dr Michael Banissy, who is perhaps best known for his research on mirror-touch synaesthesia, has been given a grant for a study which “will seek to determine the extent to which non-invasive brain stimulation can be used to aid the perception of social cues in typical adults and developmental prosopagnosia.” I’m not quite sure why the perception of social cues is being studied in people who have developmental prosopagnosia, as it is my understanding that prosopagnosia is a disorder of face memory or face recognition, not face perception or facial expression, but what do I know? I’m just a housewife.


Where are tests for people who suspect they or their kids have prosopagnosia?

The top search term leading to this blog for the last month has been “prosopagnosia test”, even though this blog is primarily about the opposite condition of super-recognition, and also covers another brain-based peculiarity of mine which is synaesthesia. I also write about prosopagnosia and link to relevant resources because I understand the importance of face memory as a human ability which we are all assumed to possess, but which many people do not possess. I’m sure the recent upswing in interest in testing for prosopagnosia or face-blindness or facial agnosia or a disability in face memory is due to the famous actor Brad Pitt’s recently publicized interview in Esquire magazine in which he revealed that he suspects that he has prosopagnosia, and his poor face memory has had a definite negative impact on his social life. He has been lucky in that an American expert in face memory and prosopagnosia has publicly offered testing and brain imaging to Mr Pitt. This is great, but whether he takes up this offer is his decision. What about less famous people who have similar suspicions about their own face memory ability or that of a person in their life? What about parents who suspect that their child or children might have prosopagnosia? We know that one type of prosopagnosia is developmental prosopagnosia, which affects people from early in life and can run in families and is certainly genetically inherited. Don’t assume that it is a disability that kids will grow out of; as far as I know this is not true. We have good reasons for believing that children who can’t recognize faces and therefore probably have social difficulties and possibly anxiety issues as a result would be especially at risk of being wrongly diagnosed and stigmatized as being on the autistic spectrum. It is very important that people of all ages who might have prosopagnosia be identified, informed and if possible helped. We are in the midst of an upswing in interest in this issue. So where is the help? Where are the tests? Where should Australians or British people wanting to know about prosopagnosia testing go to for help?

After searching thru many dead links I’ve found a link that appears to lead to an online version of the Cambridge Face Memory Test. This is probably the best face memory test available today. There are two versions; the short and the long form. The short version has 72 questions in it. It can be important to know which you did, but I suspect that the test linked to here will give a score in the proper context. http://www.icn.ucl.ac.uk/facetests/fgcfmt/fgCFMT.php

For the testing of children, one of the leading face memory researchers who created the CFMT, Dr Brad Duchaine, and two other researchers, Kirsten Dalrymple and Jesse Gomez, have created the CFMT-Kids, which “…is available to other researchers”, so I’ll guess parents will have to find a face memory researcher in their city (good luck) and do some begging.  I don’t know if this test is available online, but I suspect that it isn’t.  http://w.journalofvision.org/content/12/9/492.short

For help and advice I guess Faceblind.org would be the best place to look on the internet:  http://www.faceblind.org/


Kirsten Dalrymple, Jesse Gomez and Brad Duchaine CFMT-Kids: A new test of face memory for children. Journal of Vision. August 13th 2012 vol. 12 no. 9 article 492. doi: 10.1167/12.9.492.


Kirsten A. Dalrymple, Sherryse Corrow, Albert Yonas and Brad Duchaine Developmental prosopagnosia in childhood. Cognitive Neuropsychology. 29:5-6, 393-418.  http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02643294.2012.722547#.UaRRDrU3B8E   http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Dalrymple%20et%20al%202012%20CN.pdf