Brad Pitt’s Not Conceited: He Has Face Blindness

According to an interview in the June/July issue of Esquire:

Brad Pitt won’t remember you. If you’ve met him, he’ll have no idea who you are when he meets you again.

Pitt told interviewer Tom Junod, that he has a real problem remembering faces. Shortly after meeting someone, their face disappears from his memory, and if he meets them again, it’s like it’s the first time.

He used to try to fake that he remembered people, but that only pissed them off. He tried asking from where he knew them, and that seemed to make them even more insulted:

You get this thing, like, ‘You’re being egotistical. You’re being conceited.’

Although he hasn’t been tested for it, Pitt is convinced that he has a neurologic disorder called prosopagnosia, sometimes called face blindness.

Prosopagnosia is a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces. The term prosopagnosia comes from the Greek words for “face” and “lack of knowledge.”

Depending upon the degree of impairment, some people with prosopagnosia may only have difficulty recognizing a familiar face; others will be unable to discriminate between unknown faces, while still others may not even be able to distinguish a face as being different from an object.  Some people with the disorder are unable to recognize their own face.

Fusiform_gyrus_animationProsopagnosia is not related to memory dysfunction, memory loss, impaired vision, or learning disabilities.  Prosopagnosia is thought to be the result of abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus (the area in red, right), a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the nerve systems that control facial perception and memory.

Prosopagnosia can result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases.  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.

Some degree of prosopagnosia is often present in children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and may be the cause of their impaired social development.

The focus of any treatment should be to help the individual with prosopagnosia develop compensatory strategies. Adults who have the condition as a result of stroke or brain trauma can be retrained to use other clues to identify individuals.

Prosopagnosia can be socially crippling.  Individuals with the disorder often have difficulty recognizing family members and close friends.  They often use other ways to identify people, such as relying on voice, clothing, or unique physical attributes, but these are not as effective as recognizing a face.  Children with congenital prosopagnosia are born with the disability and have never had a time when they could recognize faces.

The famous neurologist and author Oliver Sachs has prosopagnosia. Here is an interview where he describes what it is like to CNN‘s Sanjay Gupta.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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