Prosopagnosia and the processing of familiarity, identity and the self

Brain injuries can have lasting detrimental effects on the way someone thinks and behaves. Prosopagnosia, a rare disorder that can result from brain injury, impairs the ability to recognize faces. Patients with this condition may have trouble recognizing family members, coworkers, and even their own face in the mirror. This disorder is debilitating because everyday interactions rely on being able to recognize people. For example, people usually act quite differently when speaking to their boss or their spouse. With her MSFHR award, Kirsten Dalrymple is studying how the healthy brain recognizes faces and how this function is impaired with prosopagnosia (sometimes known as face blindness). Certain brain activations occur when someone looks at a face. Dalrymple will record and compare how brain activations differ between people who have prosopagnosia and those who function normally. In addition, most people remember things better when there’s a connection to themselves, rather than a reference to something unfamiliar, like the face of a stranger. Dalrymple is investigating whether or not this “self-reference” ability is present in people with prosopagnosia, who may be unaware that they are looking at their own face in a picture, rather than the face of a stranger. Her findings could be used to help patients rehabilitate from, or compensate for, the effects of this disorder.