Tag Archives: Developmental Prosopagnosia

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/

References

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.

http://sciencealerts.com/stories/1967742/CFMTKids_A_new_test_of_face_memory_for_children.html

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

Oh look! Article in fascinating “Mindscapes” series in New Scientist about prosopagnosia

Autobiographer Heather Sellers is profiled, prosopagnosia is described, leading face memory researcher Brad Duchaine is interviewed and a brain scan study of his is described, an interesting study by Italian researcher Zaira Cattaneo using transcranial magnetic stimulation is outlined. Nice work, Helen Thomson! I wonder whether a super-recognizer might in the future be featured in this series? I can only guess.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23482-mindscapes-the-woman-who-cant-recognise-her-face.html

Links to research papers:

Martin Eimer, Angela Gosling and Bradley Duchaine Electrophysiological markers of covert face recognition in developmental prosopagnosia. Brain (2012) 135(2): 542-554 first published online January 23, 2012 doi:10.1093/brain/awr347  http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/135/2/542

Chiara Renzi, Susanna Schiavi, Claus-Christian Carbon, Tomaso Vecchi, Juha Silvanto, Zaira Cattaneo Processing of featural and configural aspects of faces is lateralized in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex: A TMS study. NeuroImage. July 2013.   http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811913001420

 

Just noticed article about prosopagnosia and face space in special edition of Discover magazine

At the newsagent the other day I noticed a special edition of Discover magazine “The Brain” with the date of Spring 2012. Inside it was an article about face recognition research done by Professor Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University. I am pretty sure that it is the same interesting article that was first published in the January-February 2011 special issue of Discover. The article author Carl Zimmer explained the concept of the face space model of face memory and described a research study which found an interesting difference between an acquired prosopagnosic and some developmental cases and normal control subjects. The article can be read at the website of Discover magazine and can also be found in full-text through at least one of the press and magazine article online services that are offered through public libraries.

Carl Zimmer The brain: seeing the person behind the face. Discover. Jan-Feb 2011 special issue published online January 19, 2011. http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jan-feb/19-brain-seeing-person-behind-the-face

here’s another interesting article at Discover about face recognition

John Horgan Can a single cell recognize your face? Discover. June 2005 edition published online June  5, 2005.  http://discovermagazine.com/2005/jun/single-brain-cell

and here’s a YouTube video in which Dr Marlene Behrmann talks in a  interview about prosopagnosia and gives an authoritative explanationa of what it is. She seems to have a slight South African accent.

Peng, Cynthia Marlene Behrmann – prosopagnosia. goCognitive. uploaded Sep 25, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9PGrgPlYw&feature=related

Listening to Heather Sellers’ autobiography

I’ve been listening to the interesting autobiography by prosopagnosic Heather Sellers, titled You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know, in a compact disc format. I had wanted to borrow the book from the public library, but for some reason or another they decided to order it in a spoken word form. Perhaps they thought that face-blindness is a sub-set of ordinary blindness, and the readers who would be interested in the autobiography would have visual impairments or dyslexia. Actually, I’d like to know if there is any link between dyslexia and prosopagnosia, but I know for sure that there are plenty of prosopagnosics who do not report any issues with vision or reading at all.

I’ll admit that I haven’t found the time to listen to all nine discs. The content of disc number seven was particularly of interest to me, covering Ms Sellers’ discovery of her own prosopagnosia, the dreadful way that she was treated during the process of getting professionally diagnosed, in the time when prosopagnosia was thought of as a rare effect of stroke affecting mostly middle-aged men, and speculation about any possible link between her prosopagnosia and her mother’s mental illness. Some useful resources that Ms Sellers wrote about discovering were an academic reserch book by Andrew W. Young and the website Faceblind.org, which is still a very important resource about prosopagnosia. Ms Sellers contacted the face recognition researcher Brad Duchaine and also discovered an online community of prosopagnosics, mostly developmental cases who often saw prosopagnosia in family members, and some acting in the role of disability activist. Different approaches to disclosing prosopagnosia as a disability are touched upon. It’s interesting stuff for sure, and I thank Ms Sellers for sharing her story.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that as I listened to the CDs of Ms Sellers’ autobiography, as visual illustration of the story in my mind’s eye, my mind automatically retrieved some old visual memories from my past in Perth, Western Australia as settings for the story, even though they were probably not a close fit to the real settings of the real events described by the author Sellers from the US. For scenes set in the university in which Sellers was a student, my mind used my visual memories of the Joondalup Campus of the Edith Curtin University, specifically the lunch bar area next to a stairway. For scenes of the story that were set in residential areas my mind used old memories of old and run-down unrenovated two-story blocks of flats in Subiaco (which have probably been fixed up or demolished by now), and for interior shots of the author’s university residence my mind came up with some imagined spaces. Perhaps this effortless, involuntary and unconscious visualization while listening to a story is completely typical of the way all people listen to stories. Whether it is or not, it shows how visual memories are involuntarily and centrally involved with thinking processes that aren’t explicitly remembering or memory-related. Visual memory is not just a isolated function summoned up when we want to remember what something looked like. Visual memory is in the guts of cognition, it is more than a record of past sensory experiences, and this is why I am not surprised that visual memories come up so often (in my own experience) as synaesthesia inducers and concurrents associated with other cognitive functions that appear to have little relation with visual memory, such as fine-motor learned skills and thinking about very abstract concepts. The automatic use of visual memories when I am thinking about a story that I’m listening to shows that visual memory is not just a narrow function of the mind, and I think it also shows that there is little point in trying to make a distinction between memory and imagination, as both appear to be functions that are beyond conscious control, at least in some situations.

New journal paper about super-recognizers and developmental prosopagnosics

Developmental prosopagnosia and super-recognition: No special role for surface
reflectance processing.
Richard Russell, Garga Chatterjee, Ken Nakayama
Neuropsychologia 50 (2012) 334– 340
http://public.gettysburg.edu/~rrussell/Russell_etal_2012.pdf

 

A brief thought about prosopagnosia or face-blindness

Today at a public swimming pool our youngest child happily greeted and played with no less than six school friends or acquaintances met previously, all of them met up with separately by our child. Our child had a morning of swimming, fun and friendship. I’m sure our child’s morning would not have been quite as much fun if our child had been unable to recognize faces, as is the case in people who have developmental or acquired prosopagnosia. Either our child identified familiar faces among the crowd and approached others in a friendly manner at the pool or our child was recognized by friends, and I would guess that if our child’s response to being recognized by others had been puzzled indifference, the meetings might not have been as friendly they were.

I can only assume that prosopagnosia must have a negative impact on the social life of anyone of any age, but I’ve got to wonder what impact it might have on the life of a young child. I have no idea whether there are any really effective treatments or learning strategies for children with poor face recognition, but if there are, I think prosopagnosia should be identified as early as possible. I’ve read that face recognition is an ability that develops in childhood and does not reach a peak untill well into adulthood, unlike many other cognitive abilities that peak much earlier, so it seems possible that something could be done to help kids with poor ability in face memory. In the teenage years there will be another important social skill to learn and refine – pretending to not recognize annoying people in public places.

YouTube video – Dr. Jansari – What is a super recognizer?

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/zW1g0e9PaLM

YouTube video about prosopagnosia with an interview with Dr Ashok Jansari, and David who has acquired prosopagnosia

Dr Ashok Jansari is one of the researchers involved with the study of superrecognizers that is currently happening in London, and runs till early January 2012, and is seeking participants who believe that they might be super-recognizers. Dr Jansari studies both extremes of face memory ability. I love his suit.

In this video a British man with acquired prosopagnosia, David Bromley, is interviewed by the rather cute English science television host Dr Michael Mosley. David generously explains what it is like to be suddenly forced to manage in life without any face memory. To compensate David has become very attentive to details of a person’s appearance other than the face.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/H5Hooty5YMo

I’ve just discovered a resource for people who have an isolated problem of getting lost or inability to orient in their physical environment

While I was looking at online resources for people who have prosopagnosia, or a disability in recognizing faces, I came across what looks like an important resource for people who have another isolated disability which is sometimes associated with prosopagnosia,  an inability to orient in a physical environment. The title of this website is “Developmental topographical disorientation: a lifelong condition”. The term “developmental” denotes that this is a condition that those affected naturally and probably genetically are destined to develop. Most developmental brain-based conditions manifest in early childhood. Prosopagnosia, synaesthesia and autism are some examples of neurodevelopmental conditions. I guess there is probably an acquired, non-developmental version of this disorientation condition that can be caused by brain damage or stroke. I also guess that developmental topographical disorientation would be a different condition to the type of disorientation that results from altered states of consciousness or from an acquired type of visual agnosia that results from dementia or Benson’s syndrome. The website that I’ve discovered appears to be run by two highly qualified academics and researchers who work in universities in Canada who appear to be experts in this condition: Assistant Professor Giuseppe Iaria and Professor Jason J S Barton.

I think developmental topographical disorientation would have to be the same type of problem that the famous neurologist, writer and prosopagnosic Dr Oliver Sacks experiences and has written about in his book The Mind’s Eye and in his interesting article about prosopagnosia which was published in the New Yorker magazine. The scientific study of this type of problem is clearly in it’s infancy, and one problem that is often a feature of new areas of academic inquiry is a lack of standardization of the terminology. I’m really not sure which is the proper term for this orientation problem, or whether there are genuinely different varieties of this problem which have their own terms. Iaria and Barton use the term “developmental topographical disorientation”, Sacks used the term “topographical agnosia” and Sacks wrote that Dr D. Frank Benson, who was the first person to formally describe Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy used the term “environmental agnosia” to describe patients who get lost in their own neighbourhoods or homes, and I’ve come across the term “agnosia for scenes” which seems to be the same type of thing. I’ve read about people who can’t recognize landcapes or scenes, and also people who can’t recognize specific landmarks, which seem to be different visual disabilities. It’s all very confusing, and I hope some clarity and standardization in this area of research will become clear, for the sake of the people who experience these issues.

I’m interested in this stuff not because I have any problems in orienting, but because I experience one type of synaesthesia in which visual memories of scenes of landscapes, some of them very old memories, are the “concurrents” or additional synaesthesia experiences triggered by thinking about specific concepts or performing very specific fine-motor household chores. I have fully described these types of synaesthesia experiences, which to my knowledge have never before been scientifically described, in a number of different posts at this blog (click on the applicable tags to find them). My guess is that my ability to orient using memories of scenes should be superior, or the opposite of topographical disorientation for a number of reasons. There seems to be a link between prosopagnosia and topographical disorientation, and I’m the opposite of a prosopagnosic in that I’ve attained some perfect scores in some tests of face recognition and thus could be a super-recognizer, and so if face and scene recognition are linked I should also have great scene recognition. I also have synaesthesia that involves visual memories of scenes, and according to research about syneasthesia, superior ability is often found in synaesthetes in the cognitive functions which are involved with their synesthesia. I also believe that an awareness of scenes and a sense of place has an unusual prominence in the way that I think and experience life. This website that I’ve just discovered links to some tests of orientation ability, so I hope I will be able to find some more spare time to have a go at these tests to see whether my prediction about my ability in this area might be true.

One last comment about the Developmental topographical disorientation website; I wonder if it is only a coincidence that two of the artworks displayed at this website, which both illustrate the concept of spatial landscapes and orienting, are the creations of two synaesthete artists – David Hockney and Vincent van Gogh? I wonder, do synaesthete artists display a more developed sense of space and place? How could one research this question in an objective manner? And what kind of art would people who have topographical disorientation create? Could this condition be diagnosed through art or drawing tests?

Developmental topographical disorientation: a lifelong condition    http://www.gettinglost.ca/Home.html

New study with scientifically sound test finds people with Asperger syndrome vary greatly in face recognition ability – can face recognition be a savant ability?

Face recognition performance of individuals with Asperger syndrome on the Cambridge face memory test.
Darren Hedley, Neil Brewer, Robyn Young
Autism Research.
Article first published online: 24 AUG 2011
DOI: 10.1002/aur.214    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aur.214/abstract

This article is still in press, but was published online last month. This study had 34 subjects with Asperger syndrome and 42 nonautistic controls. It appears that while around a quarter of the study subjects with Asperger syndrome in this study have prosopagnosia (as defined by a test score from 2 to 3 SD’s below normal or mean), Asperger syndrome (a type of autism) is also not inconsistent with superior performance on the Cambridge Face Memory Test (CFMT), which is the best test of face recognition that I know of. Some features of the study that perhaps distinguish it from other studies of face recognition in autism are the use of a reliable and valid test of face recognition (Duchaine & Nakayama 2006), the study of face recognition in adults, not children, which is really important because face learning ability appears to be a skill that peaks at a surprisingly late stage in the life-span, into the third decade (Germine, Duchaine & Nakayama 2011), and if autistic people have a delay in development that could potentially affect or bias the results of studies of children and youths.

I was particularly interested in looking at the data for individual study subjects, but for some reason, in journal papers this seems to always be included in a miniature table that is either unreadable or unprintable, or both, or is absent altogether. Persevering, I was interested to find that none of the non-autistic study participants got a score in the prosopagnosia range, while eight out of 34 of the Asperger participants did, so there seems to be a definite association between having prosopagnosia and having a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome (AS). But at the other end of the spectrum of ability, the top score of the whole study, which I think must have been close to the super-recognizer range at 1.75, was achieved by a participant with AS, and there were two other with AS who got great scores. It appears that a fair proportion of those with AS got close to average scores. To the naked eye, it appears that there is a greater variation in face recognition ability in those with AS than in the normal adults tested. Why? Should we just accept this as a brute fact about AS, or should we look for special explanations for the top or bottom achievers in the AS group?

Is there something special about the top performers in the AS group? Given that there appears to be a link between autism and synaesthesia, and synaesthesia appears to be sometimes associated with savant-like superior ability in specific sensory or cognitive tasks (Banissy et al 2011) (Banissy, Walsh & Ward 2009) (Baron-Cohen et al 2007) (Simner, Mayo & Spiller 2009), and the association between savantism and autism is generally accepted, should we then ask if the three top-performing participants with AS might be synaesthetes who also have AS? If these connections are found in reality, should we then include superior face recognition (“super-recognizers”) among the many varied areas of mental performance that are regarded as savant skills and abilities? I have already discovered in a 2010 study of face recognition in the broader autism phenotype (BAP) one CFMT score from a father of an autistic child that appears to be close to a super-recognizer level of performance (Wilson et al 2010), as defined as two or more SD’s above the mean. I would have thought that this isn’t what researchers would expect to find in studies of autism or the BAP which use study participants who aren’t selected for any particular level of face recognition ability.

I’ve got to wonder whether people (children?) whose main social disability is prosopagnosia have been clumsily lumped into the category of autism. It appears that over three-quarters of the autistic subjects did not have a “severe face recognition impairment”, so we certainly can’t say that a severe impairment is typical of the group of people who have Asperger syndrome (AS) in this study, and my reading of the “enhanced perceptual functioning model” of autism seems to suggest that autistic people should have an advantage at visual tasks (Samson et al 2011). We know that prosopagnosia is a fairly common but not well recognized disability, and that the diagnosis rates for things like AS and autism have been climbing steadily for a long time. The question of why this has happened is one that has provoked huge controversy – is there a genuine increase in autism rates, or are more and more people being placed into the category, due to lower thresholds of “severity” required for a diagnosis, or the category of autism indiscriminately devouring other categories of people, such as the intellectually disabled and other uncommon or rare disabilities?

The possibility that prosopagnosics can be (incorrectly?) identified as cases of autism was demonstrated in a story about prosopagnosia from the Australian science television series Catalyst which was broadcast in 2007 (see link below). An anecdote about two children in a family which was later found to have members with developmental prosopagnosia, who had previously been diagnosed with autism, was recounted by a prosopagnosia researcher from Macquarie University and dramatized on the show. I should point out that neither of the face perception tests shown in this story are the CFMT. One face recognition test shown in the Catalyst story uses the faces of famous people and it relies upon the person being tested already knowing about the famous person and being able to give a name for the famous face, two tasks which are not face recognition, so as a test of face recognition it is far from pure and perfect.

References

Banissy, Michael J., Garrido, Lucia, Kusnir, Flor, Duchaine, Bradley, Walsh, Vincent and Ward, Jamie Superior Facial Expression, But Not Identity Recognition, in Mirror-Touch Synesthesia. Journal of Neuroscience. February 2, 2011, 31(5):1820-1824. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5759-09.2011  http://www.faceblind.org/social_perception/papers/Banissy11JN.pdf       http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/abstract/31/5/1820

Banissy, Michael J., Walsh, Vincent & Ward, Jamie Enhanced sensory perception in synaesthesia. Experimental Brain Research. 2009 Jul;196(4):565-71. Epub 2009 Jun 17. http://www.springerlink.com/content/406581u3507un270/   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19533108

Baron-Cohen S, Bor D, Billington J, Asher JE, Wheelwright S and Ashwin C. Savant memory in a man with colour form-number synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Consciousness Studies. volume 14, number 9-10, September-October 2007, p. 237-251.  http://www.imprint.co.uk/jcs_14_9-10.html

Duchaine, Brad & Nakayama, Ken The Cambridge Face Memory Test: Results for neurologically intact individuals and an investigation of its validity using inverted face stimuli and prosopagnosic participants. Neuropsychologia 44 (2006) 576–585.
http://visionlab.harvard.edu/members/ken/Ken%20papers%20for%20web%20page/137neuropsychologiaDuchaine2006.pdf

Face blindness. Catalyst. ABC. broadcast 19/07/2007  http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/s1982889.htm  (This story showed face recognition testing at Macquarie University and includes a small sample of the tests which viewers can try)

Germine, Laura T., Duchaine, Bradley, Nakayama, Ken Where cognitive development and aging meet: Face learning ability peaks after age 30. Cognition, Volume 118, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 201-210http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027710002611

Hedley, Darren, Brewer, Neil, Young, Robyn Face recognition performance of individuals with Asperger syndrome on the Cambridge face memory test. Autism Research. Article first published online: 24 AUG 2011         DOI: 10.1002/aur.214    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aur.214/abstract

Samson, Fabienne, Mottron, Laurent, Soulieres, Isabelle & Zeffiro, Thomas A. Enhanced visual functioning in autism: an ALE meta-analysis. Human Brain Mapping. Article first published online: 4 APR 2011 DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21307 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hbm.21307/abstract

Simner, Julia, Mayo, Neil, Spiller, Mary-Jane A foundation for savantism? Visuo-spatial synaesthetes present with cognitive benefits. Cortex. Volume 45, issue 10, November-December 2009, Pages 1246-1260.
http://www.cortexjournal.net/article/S0010-9452(09)00221-4/abstract

Wilson CE, Freeman P, Brock J, Burton AM, Palermo R Facial Identity Recognition in the Broader Autism Phenotype. PLoS ONE 2010 5(9): e12876. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012876
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0012876