Dr Sarah Bate on face blindness in national newspapers

Posted on Wednesday, October 24 2012

Dr Sarah Bate, from the Centre for Processing Facial Disorders at Bournemouth University, was featured in articles in the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Mirror about two sisters with prosopagnosia.

The condition, more commonly known as face blindness, means that people are unable to recognise faces – in severe cases, even their own or the people closest to them.

The articles focus on sisters Donna Jones and Victoria Wardley, from Yorkshire, who both have prosopagnosia.

The condition means that they are unable to recognise each other or their own reflections in the mirror. The sisters were only diagnosed by their family doctor a few years ago.

Dr Bate, who also lectures in psychology and is currently testing more than 700 people as part of her research into prosopagnosia, said: “Sometimes the condition appears to run in families, and often people report other first-degree relatives who also appear to be poor with faces.

‘Recent estimates suggest as many as 2 per cent of the population (that’s one in 50 people) have a degree of face blindness, yet public awareness of the condition remains low.”

Although the condition can be caused by a neurological trauma, Dr Bate said it is more likely that people are born with it.

She said: “‘Prosopagnosia or face blindness is a cognitive condition characterised by a selective impairment in face recognition.

‘Very rarely some people acquire the condition following neurological trauma, but we’ve recently become aware that many more people have a developmental form of prosopagnosia.

‘These people have never suffered any neurological damage, and appear to have simply failed to develop the visual mechanisms that are required for face processing.”

The sisters featured in the article say that they have always found it difficult to remember and recognise faces.

Mrs Wardley said: ‘When I see someone’s face it’s like tunnel vision. I can make out an eye or a nose, but when I try and look at a whole face it just doesn’t work.

‘It’s like a blank canvas on someone’s head. People who I’ve known for years will come up to me in the street, but until they introduce themselves I have no idea who they are.

“‘I’m not really sure what I look like, and I couldn’t describe my husband to you, either.”

Ms Jones added that it was a “relief” when she was diagnosed with the condition:

“I’d always thought I just wasn’t paying enough attention to people, so in a way it was a relief to know that something was wrong.

‘I’ve had incidents where I’ve gone up to men in supermarkets thinking they were my partner, only to realise I’d grabbed hold of the wrong man!

“I even find it hard to pick out my daughter from a crowd. I feel so guilty sometimes – I should know what my own child looks like – but I just find it impossible.”

You can read the article on the Daily Mail website.