BU helps host face blindness roundtable event at House of Commons


A roundtable event at the House of Commons has called for greater public and professional awareness of the condition prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness.

The event was hosted by Dr Sarah Bate from the Centre for Face Processing Disorders at Bournemouth University (BU) and Tobias Ellwood, Bournemouth East MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Health.

Prosopagnosia is a cognitive condition which means people find it difficult to recognise familiar people from their faces – sometimes leaving them unable to identify even their closest relatives or their own reflection in the mirror.

Although it is thought to affect around 1 in 50 people it is not a formally recognised condition, and so people often find it difficult to access support and guidance.

The breakfast roundtable event called for measures to promote greater public and professional awareness of prosopagnosia – especially in schools, workplaces and the healthcare system.

Dr Sarah Bate, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at BU, said: “The roundtable was a fantastic opportunity for us to present our awareness campaign to key influencers, and we are very grateful to Tobias Ellwood for hosting the event.

“We demonstrated whDSC_8746at it is like to live with face blindness and why awareness needs to be raised, and are now looking forward to working with the roundtable attendees to progress our campaign.”

The event was supported by a Public Engagement Grant that was awarded to Dr Bate by the British Psychological Society (BPS), and further assistance was provided by the Encephalitis Society.

Representatives from both organisations attended the roundtable, and continue to support the awareness campaign.

Members of the London Faceblind Group also spoke at the event, talking about their experiences with the condition and the need for greater awareness and support.

Hazel Plastow, who has a developmental form of prosopagnosia, said: “The impact is physical, social, emotional – it’s huge.

“But those more formal forms of support aren’t available to people with face blindness.

“Thousands of people out there struggling on a daily basis, wondering why they find things difficult when other people seem to sail by, so these are the people we need to reach.”

Jo Livingston from the group spoke about the impact that the condition can have on children at school – including problems socialising or being incorrectly diagnosed with behavioural disorders.

She said: “Children are growing up with it and teachers are most unlikely to have heard of it.

“Even the smallest primary school will have one or two face blind children but most are growing up with no knowledge of the condition and have no help or support.”

She added: “It would be of great help if face blindness could be included in teacher training courses and career courses to alert teachers to the fact that this is a real condition and they will already know many children who are affected by it.”

The awareness campaign has a number of aims, including formal definition and classification of prosopagnosia; the development of a national face blind organisation; and promoting awareness and key guidance in a top-down manner in schools, workplaces and the healthcare system.

Tobias Ellwood MP, who later blogged about the event, said he was keen to support the campaign.

“I’d be delighted to be part of that in any way that I can,” he said. “It is something that is very important and affects a lot of people.

“It is not hard to provide that assistance and make their lives far more simple in terms of education, and understanding and practical guidance.

“But the first thing is to get recognition so those who do have it know what it is and aren’t shy in coming forwards about it.”

The roundtable event featured the premiere of a face blindness awareness video, created by the BU Centre for Face Processing Disorders, the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the Encephalitis Society and funded by the BPS’s Public Engagement Grants scheme.

Watch the video


Bournemouth University receives grant to raise prosopagnosia awareness


Bournemouth University’s Centre for Face Processing Disorders (CFPD) has been awarded a four-figure sum from the British Psychological Society to raise awareness for prosopagnosia, or face blindness, in the UK.

The money will be used to launch a Face Blindness Awareness Campaign by producing a series of DVDs that highlight face blindness, and to fund a launch event for the campaign.

Dr Sarah Bate, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Lead Researcher within the CFPD, said, “I am delighted to receive this award – these funds and the partnership with the British Psychological Society and Encephalitis Society will formalise our public awareness campaign and ensure maximum exposure and impact is generated.”

Prosopagnosia is a condition characterised by a selective deficit to be able to recognise a familiar person by their face.  It is estimated that one in 50 people experience prosopagnosia, to a lesser or greater degree, but public and professional awareness of the condition is very low.  The Centre aims to rectify this through their campaign.

Every year, the British Psychological Society makes grants to help its members demonstrate the relevance of psychological science to a wider audience.

Professor Catriona Morrison, Chair of the Society’s Psychology Education Board, says, “The range and quality of this year’s grant recipients emphasise how much psychological science can contribute to wider society. Sharing this knowledge with the public is an important part of our work.”

For more information about prosopagnosia, visit the Centre for Face Processing Disorders website.

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Dr Sarah Bate explains face blindness in The Sun

After Brad Pitt admitted he suffered from prosopagnosia – more commonly known as face blindness – the Sun featured the stories of two other people with the condition in its health pages.

They also called on BU’s Dr Sarah Bate, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology who specialises in face recognition, to explain the condition.

People with extreme forms of face blindness struggle to recognise their family, friends, and even their own reflections in the mirror.

Sarah, who has set up an e-petition to get the government to formally recognise prosopagnosia, said in the article: “While some sufferers find prosopagnosia can lead to occasional embarrassment, for others it affects their social aptitude and employment opportunities.

“They might withdraw from social events and choose to work in jobs that avoid the need for face-to-face interaction with colleagues. This can cause anxiety and depression.”

But, she said, some people cope remarkably well with the condition and develop strategies like focusing on non-facial clues – like hairstyles, gait or clothing – to recognise people.

She added: “These strategies might work some of the time but there are always occasions where a familiar person is met out of context and the strategy breaks down.”

Find out more about prosopagnosia and the work taking place at BU

Work of BU’s Centre for Face Processing Disorders featured in CBBC documentary

The work of the Centre for Face Processing Disorders at BU was featured in a documentary on the CBBC channel.

My Life: Who Are You? followed 14-year-old Hannah, who has been diagnosed with prosopagnosia, more commonly known as face blindness.

Hannah has one of the most extreme cases of face blindness in the UK, following a brain disorder when she was eight, and cannot recognise her parents, best friend, or even her own face in the mirror.

The half-hour documentary showed Hannah and her family coming to the Centre for Face Processing Disorders at BU, and working with Dr Sarah Bate and her team.

Dr Bate, who is one of the leading experts in prosopagnosia, tested Hannah using eye-tracking technology to see where she looks when trying to recognise a face.

She also gave her homework exercises to do to try and train a different part of Hannah’s brain to help recognise people.

Dr Bate said: “[Hannah] is one of the most severely face blind people we’ve had here.

“It’s possible another part of the brain may take over and, to some extent, she might then recover some of her face processing ability.”

The documentary also shows Dr Bate conducting an exercise in one of the university lecture theatres, where Hannah had to try and pick out her friends and relatives from a line-up of people.

She manages to recognise them all, although some of them have to speak before she realises who they are.

In the documentary, Hannah also meets other people with face blindness – including Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne – to see how they deal with the disorder.

You can watch My Life: Who Are You? here.