Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Prosopagnosia; Face Blindness

Prosopagnosia, prosopon means face and agnosia means not knowing, also called face blindness. Face blindness is a brain disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces.



It is thought to be the result of abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus, a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems that control facial perception and memory.



Face blindness can result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases which can be of congenital reason as well. It is a disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing (e.g., object discrimination) and intellectual functioning (e.g., decision making) remain intact. Prosopagnosia has also been associated with other disorders that are associated with nearby brain areas: left hemianopsia (loss of vision from left side of space, associated with damage to the right occipital lobe), achromatopsia (a deficit in color perception often associated with unilateral or bilateral lesions in the temporo-occipital junction) and topographical disorientation (a loss of environmental familiarity and difficulties in using landmarks, associated with lesions in the posterior part of the parahippocampal gyrus and anterior part of the lingual gyrus of the right hemisphere).

Prosopagnosia is not a unitary disorder (i.e., different people may show different types and levels of impairment), it has been argued that face perception involves a number of stages, each of which can cause qualitative differences in impairment that different persons with prosopagnosia may exhibit. The prototypical face has a specific spatial layout (eyes are always located above nose, and nose located above mouth), it is beneficial to use a holistic approach to recognize individual/specific faces from a group of similar layouts. This holistic processing of the face is exactly what is damaged in prosopagnosics. They are able to recognize the specific spatial layout and characteristics of facial features, but they are unable to process them as one entire face.

Types:

Apperceptive prosopagnosia has typically been used to describe cases of acquired prosopagnosia with some of the earliest processes in the face perception system. The brain areas thought to play a critical role in apperceptive prosopagnosia are right occipital temporal regions. People with this disorder cannot make any sense of faces and are unable to make same-different judgments when they are presented with pictures of different faces. They are unable to recognize both familiar and unfamiliar faces. However, they may be able to recognize people based on non-face clues such as their clothing, hairstyle or voice.

Associative prosopagnosia has typically been used to describe cases of acquired prosopagnosia with spared perceptual processes but impaired links between early face perception processes and the semantic information we hold about people in our memories. Right anterior temporal regions may also play a critical role in associative prosopagnosia. People with this form of the disorder may be able to say whether photos of people's faces are the same or different and derive the age and sex from a face (suggesting they can make sense of some face information) but may not be able to subsequently identify the person or provide any information about them such as their name, occupation, or when they were last encountered.

Developmental prosopagnosia(DP) is a face-recognition deficit that is lifelong, manifesting in early childhood, and that cannot be attributed to acquired brain damage. It has been suggested that a genetic factor is responsible for the condition. The term “hereditary prosopagnosia” was introduced if DP affected more than one family member, essentially accenting the possible genetic contribution of this condition. There are many developmental disorders associated with an increased likelihood that the person will have difficulties in face perception, of which the person may or may not be aware. The mechanism by which these perceptual deficits take place is largely unknown. A partial list of some disorders that often have prosopagnosiac components would include nonverbal learning disorder, Alzheimer's Disease, and autism spectrum disorders in general.

There are few neuropsychological assessments that can definitively diagnose prosopagnosia. One commonly used test is the famous faces tests, where individuals are asked to recognize the faces of famous persons. However, this test is difficult to standardize. The Benton Facial Recognition Test (BFRT) is another test used by neuropsychologists to assess face recognition skills.

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