Researchers have created the world’s first checklist for identifying face processing disorders, in a bid to support the diagnosis of conditions such as prosopagnosia.
The research, conducted by Bournemouth University, looked to create a comprehensive framework for identifying and, ultimately, diagnosing prosopagnosia, often termed as face blindness, a condition that prevents people from recognising people by looking at their facial features alone.
It is hoped that the checklist will be especially useful in early diagnosis of prosopagnosia, for instance in children, and provides a framework for standardising the identification of face processing disorders.
Dr Sarah Bate, who leads the research into face processing at Bournemouth University, said, “Proper identification and diagnosis of prosopagnosia can sometimes be difficult, especially when there isn’t a large public awareness of the condition, which is why we have created this symptom checklist.
“Previous work has created self-report questionnaires that attempt to quantify the severity of face recognition difficulties, whereas our approach merely identifies a list of behaviours that can be spotted in the self or others. Our checklist, for the first time, provides parents and professionals with a tool that they can use to potentially spot face blindness in a child, and then refer them on for appropriate formal testing.”
Dr Bate and her team have been researching face processing disorders for a number of years, and have found that the prevalence of prosopagnosia could be as large as 1 in 50 people. Dr Bate continues, “We know from our testing that prosopagnosia as a condition could affect more people than autism, looking at the numbers, so the work we are conducting is vital in understanding more about the condition and what we may be able to do to help.”
People with face blindness are often unable to easily recognise people by their facial features alone, and the checklist provides examples, such as confusion regarding characters when watching television, or an inability to recognise people in photographs, as typical symptoms of prosopagnosia.
Television personality and businessman Duncan Bannatyne is reported to be living with the condition, while actor Brad Pitt has also been quoted as saying he has prosopagnosia.
After interviewing 50 adults with diagnosed face blindness, their non-affected partners, and the parents of children with face blindness, the study reports that individuals with developmental prosopagnosia have limited insight into their own abilities, suggesting that its detection may fall to unaffected others, such as parents or friends.
Furthermore, according to the research, the age at which prosopagnosics become aware of their own difficulties (i.e. they understand that they have a deficit relative to others) varies widely, often only detected in adulthood.
Dr Bate explains, “We believe, based on the reflections and past experiences of people we have spoken to, that the condition can be detected in children as young as 2-3 years of age. To aid the detection of prosopagnosia, we now present the first list of everyday symptoms which can be used to assist the detection of the condition in both adults and children, and in oneself and in another person.”
Helen Brewer, Inclusion Co-ordinator at St. Mark’s C of E Primary School in Bournemouth, said, “I’ve encountered a child who says hello to you, then later in the same day says hello again, almost surprised to see you, almost forgetting they saw you earlier in the day. Another young child doesn’t engage in the playground – maybe she just can’t see the people she knows in such a large busy space rather than she doesn’t want to play with anyone. I can also see how face blindness may explain some attachment issues, particularly in larger families. The obvious suspicion in these cases is ASD, but perhaps this isn’t the case. The new prosopagnosia symptom checklist will be a useful tool to help us consider other explanations for this type of behaviour.”
For more information about prosopagnosia, visit the researchers’ dedicated website, www.prosopagnosiaresearch.org. For a PDF download of prosopagnosia symptoms, visit www.prosopagnosiaresearch.org/symptoms.