It is rare that I am surprised by a campaign as much as I was this morning when I attended a Breakfast Briefing in Westminster from a Bournemouth University research centre.
The Centre for Face Processing Disorders – more commonly known as Bournemouth University’s ‘Face Centre’ and part of the Psychology Research Centre – is a research centre set up to study the little-known neurodisability ‘prosopagnosia’.
Known to most people as ‘face blindness’, sufferers are unable to recognise and differentiate between faces, even family or lifelong friends. Whilst their vision itself is not impaired – they see facial features such as eyes and mouths just the same as everyone else – the problem lies in the brain’s ability to translate that information in to facial recognition, meaning that faces all look identical.
What surprised me about face blindness is that despite very few people – myself included – knowing about the condition (even those in the healthcare, psychology and therapy sectors), around 1 in 50 people in the UK have it. It is also estimated that around 300,000 children suffer from it, making school and home life unimaginably difficult and stressful as they grow up. Many children with face blindness struggle to make some – if any – friends at school because whilst they remember their name, the conversations they had, and every other aspect of their relationship, they are simply unable to recognise them when they see them.
For adults, the problem can be equally isolating, particularly in a work or office environment when client meetings, or bumping in to colleagues you simply can’t recognise, can cause anxiety, embarrassment and even confusion for others. Because of the general lack of public awareness, many sufferers may either not realise that they have an actual condition, or if they do know about it they may never tell anyone that they have it for fear of judgment or misunderstanding.
Bournemouth University’s Face Centre is conducting vital, life-changing research into this issue, hoping to raise awareness and support amongst sufferers, friends and families, the NHS, employers and other local support groups. At the breakfast today, I heard a number of touching stories from people living with this condition, their coping strategies, and the need for more widespread awareness and support.
I am thankful to the participants for briefing me so thoroughly on this important issue, and hope lots more developments on this issue will be made as a result of their determined campaign work and their industry-leading research.
If you would like to find out more about the condition, please head to their website: www.prosopagnosiaresearch.org or follow them on Twitter on @bufacecentre