Face Blindness

brokenpromiseI’m reading a new book called Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay.

It’s a thriller and murder mystery combined. David, the main character, has a cousin, Marla, who is devastated by recent death of her newborn child.

David is horrified to discover that Marla’s been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an “angel” left on her porch.

When asked to describe the “angel”, Marla can’t because she has prosopagnosia–an inability to recognize the faces of familiar people.

I love reading books on my phone because I can quickly search for more information about a word or event using Google which is exactly what I did when I read ‘prosopagnosia’.

Also known as ‘face blindness’, the illness most often is caused by brain damage, but there is a congenital form.


There is no treatment, and sufferers try to use other clues to remember friends and family including clothing, hair color, body shape, and voice.

As I read more about it, I was surprised by Wikipedia’s list of notable people who have it including:

  • Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, and anthropologist who studied social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Africa
  • Oliver Sacks, neuroscientist and author whose books include The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; although he knew what prosopagnosia was and had studied it, he did not realize he had it until people became shocked that he confused one of his brothers with the other and then, discussing it with family members, learned that a number of them had similar difficulties with face recognition.
  • Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple

It’s hard to imagine how devastating this would be…

Here’s a video of Oliver Sacks explaining his condition:

4 thoughts on “Face Blindness”

    1. Yeah, Joanne, and especially Jane Goodall. So is part of that what makes her so keen at observing the differences between the chimpanzees?

  1. Even himself….. WOW!

    And trouble recognizing faces AND places. When Patricia was about 10 and we were heading to Reno one day, she asked if this was a new way to Reno!

    1. I’m wondering, Carol, if there are varying degrees of this. And I also wonder if those afflicted say, “I have prosopagnosia.” How the heck would you explain that to people?

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