According to the NIH prosopagnosia information page, " Prosopagnosia is a rare neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces . . . . In some cases it is a congenital disorder, present at birth in the absence of any brain damage. Congenital prosopagnosia appears to run in families, which makes it likely to be the result of a genetic mutation or deletion . . Prosopagnosia can be socially crippling . . . Children with congenital prosopagnosia are born with the disability . . . Their impairment may not be obvious to them or anyone else until they reach adulthood." Recent studies show that Prosopagnosia is not a rare condition. Two independent estimates indicate that it could affect 2% of the population, a prevalence comparable to amblyopia and dyslexia. Yet, there has been little or no systematic research to understand this common, seriously disabling visual deficit. We will characterize the range of deficits to aid in its diagnosis and to obtain fuller understanding of the condition. We have three main AIMS. First, we will systematically study a large population of prosopagnosic subjects so as to better appreciate its heterogeneity, recognizing at the outset that it comes in pure forms with no other visual deficiencies and in an iconic form where there is a concomitant deficit in visual memory. (Results suggest that these two forms have differing genetic and physiological substrates.) To accomplish this, we will exhaustively test prosopagnosics on many visual functions, assessing the recognition and memory of faces, visual objects and visual scenes. Second, we will more rigorously evaluate several new training regimes where three prosopagnosic subjects have significantly improved on their face recognition capabilities, and we will determine which persons are most likely to benefit from specific training procedures. Third, acknowledging that there are many children suffering from prosopagnosia with no help or understanding of the condition, we will initiate a project to identify children and adolescents with the condition, modifying the above training methods to improve face recognition in these children.

Public Health Relevance

Prosopagnosia is a surprisingly common visual deficit characterized by the inability to recognize faces. It can be severely disabling, leading to lost friendships and job opportunities and for some, depression and social isolation. We propose to develop behavioral tests to diagnose and characterize prosopagnosia in adults and in children. In addition, we will determine the efficacy of a new training method to ameliorate the effects of this serious condition.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Central Visual Processing Study Section (CVP)
Program Officer
Wiggs, Cheri
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Harvard University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
DeGutis, Joseph; Cohan, Sarah; Nakayama, Ken (2014) Holistic face training enhances face processing in developmental prosopagnosia. Brain 137:1781-98
Russell, Richard; Chatterjee, Garga; Nakayama, Ken (2012) Developmental prosopagnosia and super-recognition: no special role for surface reflectance processing. Neuropsychologia 50:334-40
Germine, Laura T; Duchaine, Bradley; Nakayama, Ken (2011) Where cognitive development and aging meet: face learning ability peaks after age 30. Cognition 118:201-10
Wilmer, Jeremy B; Germine, Laura; Chabris, Christopher F et al. (2010) Human face recognition ability is specific and highly heritable. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 107:5238-41
Russell, Richard; Duchaine, Brad; Nakayama, Ken (2009) Super-recognizers: people with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychon Bull Rev 16:252-7
Chen, Yue; Grossman, Emily D; Bidwell, L Cinnamon et al. (2008) Differential activation patterns of occipital and prefrontal cortices during motion processing: evidence from normal and schizophrenic brains. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci 8:293-303
Garrido, Lucia; Duchaine, Brad; Nakayama, Ken (2008) Face detection in normal and prosopagnosic individuals. J Neuropsychol 2:119-40
Duchaine, Bradley; Germine, Laura; Nakayama, Ken (2007) Family resemblance: ten family members with prosopagnosia and within-class object agnosia. Cogn Neuropsychol 24:419-30
Duchaine, Bradley; Yovel, Galit; Nakayama, Ken (2007) No global processing deficit in the Navon task in 14 developmental prosopagnosics. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2:104-13
Martini, Paolo; McKone, Elinor; Nakayama, Ken (2006) Orientation tuning of human face processing estimated by contrast matching in transparency displays. Vision Res 46:2102-9

Showing the most recent 10 out of 16 publications