Find it hard to recognise faces? Swansea experts appeal to public to help research into little-known condition

Do you have trouble recognising people, even family and friends? Do you find it difficult to tell one expression from another in someone’s face? If so, Swansea University experts are keen to hear from you, as they are researching a condition that affects people’s ability to see differences between faces.

The condition, known as developmental prosopagnosia (DP), has been described as “dyslexia for faces”.  Well-known people with it include the actor Brad Pitt and the co-founder of Apple, Steve Wosniak.  It’s a condition that people are born with, though sometimes people can lose the ability to recognise faces as a result of a trauma or stroke.

DP can have a very damaging impact on people with the condition, some of whom may not be aware that they have it.   One person with DP told the research team that they had bumped into their boss in the supermarket and failed to recognise them.   Luckily, in this case, the boss knew of the condition, but it could have caused enormous embarrassment and damaged relationships.

Face Research Swansea, a group of University experts in the field, is now looking for members of the public who might be willing to help them understand more about this condition.

The team are interested in people who are very bad at recognising faces, but also those who are very good.

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Chithra Kannan of Swansea University, one of the lead researchers for this work, said:

“People can help us in various ways, and it doesn’t have to take too long.   The first thing we usually do is some online screening tests - usually take no more than an hour or so - this is just to determine if someone really does appear to have a problem.

If they do seem to have an issue - we typically ask them to come and visit us if they would like to do some testing here to confirm they are definitely a candidate for DP. That usually takes about an hour or so.

We’d encourage people to mention it to family and friends who are very bad – or very good - at recognising faces.”

Dr Jeremy Tree, associate professor at Swansea University and expert in DP, said:

”DP can have a very damaging impact on people who have the condition.  Understanding more about it is essential if we are to find ways to support  those who live with it.   That’s why our research is important.  So we would be very grateful to anyone who is able to help us.”

 The team are based in the College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University.

Contact the team:  j.tree@swansea.ac.uk

Face Research Swansea - find out more