How Common Is Face Blindness?

Study suggests condition affects more people than previously thought

A hand holds a puzzle piece that reads "prosopagnosia" above a puzzle in the shape of a human brain
Image: designer491/Getty Images Plus

Face blindness, a mystifying condition that can trick us into believing we recognize people we’ve never met or make us fail to recognize those we have, has been previously estimated to affect between 2 and 2.5 percent of people in the world.

Now, a new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the VA Boston Healthcare System is providing fresh insights into the disorder, suggesting it may be more common than currently believed.

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Published in February 2023 in Cortex, the study findings indicate that as many as one in 33 people (3.08 percent) may meet the criteria for face blindness, or prosopagnosia. This translates to more than 10 million Americans, the research team said.

The study found similar face-matching performance between people diagnosed with prosopagnosia using stricter vs. looser criteria, suggesting that diagnostic criteria should be expanded to be more inclusive. That could lead to new diagnoses among millions who may have the disorder but don’t realize it.