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Prosopagnosia: Seeing The World Through Fog Colored Glasses

1324 words - 6 pages

Prosopagnosia: Seeing the World through Fog-Colored Glasses

With impressive consistency, the visual system, along with each accompanying component that in sum total constitutes a person, develops without error. Patterns of input impinge on complex layers of cells, with the resulting neural interpretation allowing us to negotiate the spatial world around us such that we may avoid causing harm to ourselves or to others. Various devices and techniques have been devised to allow those who are not equipped with a similarly functioning visual system to escape natural selection's discerning grasp. However, various gradations of dysfunction exist between perfect and no vision, which complicate ...view middle of the document...

Lesions in this somewhat posterior and deeply embedded region of the brain, suggested by some researchers to be bilateral in the instance of this disorder, would be consistent with the presented deficits in perception. However there are certain elements of the research and the disorder which seem counterintuitive. For instance, that these "face blind" individuals only cite difficulty in recognizing familiar faces suggests that the problem may be more than just perceptual. Furthermore, there is separate evidence suggesting that visual processing occurs on a unilateral level (4), and that stimuli are perceived contralaterally. This orientation does not preclude a bilateral lesioning being at the root of prosopagnosia, however it does offer some complicating factors. Given the variety of competing hypotheses, as well as the recognized intricacy of the visual system, it is, as is often the case with neurologically based disorders, likely the case that a complex amalgam of deficits combines to produce the observed effect.

Whatever the neural substrate involved in prosopagnosia, it is clear enough that it involves fairly deep structures and fundamental abilities. Among other things, it suggests the possible existence of a grandmother cell-type arrangement (5) specific to cells designed to recognize faces. If there were such a subset of cells, speaking perceptually, then if the pathway to or from them were to be damaged in some way it would result in only very specific impairment of function. This is a compelling possibility, despite the resounding inefficiency of the grandmother cell hypothesis as a whole, given that prosopagnosia and the corresponding facial agnosia seem to represent different strains of one breed of problem (6). And while prosopagnosia is not thought to be entirely a function of impaired memory, it does equate to a sort of perceptual amnesia, of both the retrograde and anterograde varieties. Providing an additional dimension to the discussion, prosopagnosia is only one representative in a family of neurological disorders. Generalized agnosia (6, 8) may extend to any sensory modality, and may occur in degrees of impairment from case to case. Within face blindness, specifically, patients may vary in their ability to recognize affect or directionality of attention in addition to a more fundamental inability to process faces.

While the exact mechanism of the disorder is still somewhat debated, it is abundantly clear that those afflicted suffer greatly. Though their suffering may not register as physical pain, and prosopagnosia in no ways hinders their ability to make their way through daily obstacles, significant emotional damage can be done stemming from forgotten or missed encounters with people as close as family members. While there are very few recorded cases of prosopagnosia, and it was only named in 1947 (1, 4), the reports of daily trials provided by sufferers are consistent in their degree of frustration and annoyance and...

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