Prosopagnosia Research at Bournemouth University

Latest News

March 2016: Our paper on eye movements in prosopagnosia and super recognition available online

Our new paper entitled "Eye-movement strategies in developmental prosopagnosia and “super” face recognition" has been accepted for publication by the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. The abstract is copied below:

Developmental prosopagnosia (DP) is a cognitive condition characterised by a severe deficit in face recognition. Few investigations have examined whether impairments at the early stages of processing may underpin the condition, and it is also unknown whether DP is simply the “bottom end” of the typical face-processing spectrum. To address these issues, we monitored the eye-movements of DPs, typical perceivers and “super recognizers” (SRs) while they viewed a set of static images displaying people engaged in naturalistic social scenarios. Three key findings emerged: (1) individuals with more severe prosopagnosia spent less time examining the internal facial region, (2) as observed in acquired prosopagnosia, some DPs spent less time examining the eyes and more time examining the mouth than controls, and (3) SRs spent more time examining the nose – a measure that also correlated with face recognition ability in controls. These findings support previous suggestions that DP is a heterogeneous condition, but suggest that at least the most severe cases represent a group of individuals that qualitatively differ from the typical population. While SRs seem to merely be those at the “top end” of normal, this work identifies the nose as a critical region for successful face recognition.


February 2016: Our new paper on superior face recognition available online

Our new paper entitled "Solving the border control problem: Evidence of enhanced face matching in individuals with extraordinary face recognition skills" has been accepted for publication in PLoS ONE. The full text can be accessed here and the abstract is copied below:

Photographic identity documents (IDs) are commonly used despite clear evidence that unfamiliar face matching is a difficult and error-prone task. The current study set out to examine the performance of seven individuals with extraordinary face recognition memory, so called “super recognisers” (SRs), on two face matching tasks resembling border control identity checks. In Experiment 1, the SRs as a group outperformed control participants on the “Glasgow Face Matching Test”, and some case-by-case comparisons also reached significance. In Experiment 2, a perceptually difficult face matching task was used: the “Models Face Matching Test”. Once again, SRs outperformed controls both on group and mostly in case-by-case analyses. These findings suggest that SRs are considerably better at face matching than typical perceivers, and would make proficient personnel for border control agencies.


February 2016: Read our blog in the Scientific American Mind Magazine

Read my blog entitled "Superior face recognition: A very special super power" on the Scientific American website. The article gives an overview of super recognition and a summary of some of our recent research findings.


February 2016: Our super-recognizer work is featured on the ITV News, BBC News and Radio Solent

It's been a busy few weeks in terms of media coverage - we've been talking about super-recognizers on the ITV News, BBC News and Radio Solent. Lots of people who think they are super-recognizers have contacted us, although further testing indicates that very few people reach the criteria for super recognition. Initial work continues to suggest it is a rare skill.


November 2015: Our super recognition research is featured on the cover of the New Scientist and in the Independent!

Our new paper on super recognition (see below) was featured in the New Scientist magazine, and was even one of the cover stories! Read the article here and further coverage in the Independent.


October 2015: Our first paper on super recognition available online

Our first paper on superior face recognition has been published in the journal "Applied Cognitive Psychology". The paper is titled "Super-recognisers in action: Evidence from face-matching and face memory tasks" and the full text can be accessed here. This paper moves the previous literature on by examining the performance of super-recognizers on more applied tasks  that are relevant to policing and security. Our findings are summarised below:

Individuals employed in forensic or security settings are often required to compare faces of ID holders to document photographs, or to recognise the faces of suspects in closed-circuit television footage. It has long been established that both tasks produce a high error rate amongst typical perceivers. This study sought to determine the performance of individuals with exceptionally good face memory (‘super-recognisers’) on applied facial identity matching and memory tasks. In experiment 1, super-recognisers were significantly better than controls when matching target faces to simultaneously presented line-ups. In experiment 2, super-recognisers were also better at recognising faces from video footage. These findings suggest that super-recognisers are more accurate at face matching and face memory tasks than typical perceivers, and they could be valuable expert employees in national security and forensic settings.


June 2015: London Student Conferences

Sarah recently delivered a keynote lecture for London Student Conferences - an A-Level Psychology conference for sixth form students. She introduced the students to basic theories of face recognition, and explored the concept of individual differences in this process. The students were particularly fascinated to learn about prosopagnosia and super recognition. Further information about this task can be found here.


June 2015: New MSc Forensic and Neuropsychological Perspectives in Face-Processing

We have just completed the final validation procedure for our new MSc programme at Bournemouth University. Led by Sarah, this exciting new course presents a unique combination of Forensic and Neuropsychological research into face-processing, combined with training into research methods, key transferable skills and advanced statistics. Reflecting the expertise and connections of our lab members, we are delighted to be able to offer applied dissertation projects where students can interact with the end users of our research. More information and details on the application procedure can be found here.


January 2015: Talk to BPS Wessex Branch

Register for Sarah's public lecture entitled "Face blindness: A problem of recognition". The lecture will be held at Bournemouth University on 14th January at 5:30PM. Full details can be found here.



October 2014: New paper on the rehabilitation of prosopagnosia in adolescence

Our paper evaluating an online face training programme for the rehabilitation of acquired prosopagnosia has been accepted for publication in the journal "Neuropsychological Rehabilitation". The paper is titled "Rehabilitation of face-processing skills in an adolescent with prosopagnosia: Evaluation of an online perceptual training programme", and the abstract is presented below:

In this paper we describe the case of EM, a female adolescent who acquired prosopagnosia following encephalitis at the age of eight. Initial neuropsychological and eye-movement investigations indicated that EM had profound difficulties in face perception as well as face recognition. EM underwent 14 weeks of perceptual training in an online programme that attempted to improve her ability to make fine-grained discriminations between faces.

Following training, EM's face perception skills had improved, and the effect generalised to untrained faces. Eye-movement analyses also indicated that EM spent more time viewing the inner facial features post-training. Examination of EM's face recognition skills revealed an improvement in her recognition of personally-known faces when presented in a laboratory-based test, although the same gains were not noted in her everyday experiences with these faces. In addition, EM did not improve on a test assessing the recognition of newly encoded faces. One month after training, EM had maintained the improvement on the eye-tracking test, and to a lesser extent, her performance on the familiar faces test. This pattern of findings is interpreted as promising evidence that the programme can improve face perception skills, and with some adjustments, may at least partially improve face recognition skills.


August 2014: Fundraising Ball

We would like to extend our thanks to Ceuta Healthcare who chose to support our research into prosopagnosia via a masked ball. We had great fun attending the event, and very much enjoyed meeting the staff and friends from Ceuta. We are very grateful to everyone for the very generous donations that were made to our work.


August 2014: Harvard Business Review

Read my blog on prosopagnosia in the workplace, recently published in the Harvard Business Review. The article, titled "2% of Your Coworkers Have Face Blindness", introduces readers to prosopagnosia and considers the impact of the condition in business interactions.


July 2014: Our review on the rehabilitation of prosopagnosia

Read our thorough review on the rehabilitation of acquired and developmental cases of prosopagnosia, recently accepted for publication in a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience titled "Facing the other: Novel theories and methods in face perception research". The full-text of the paper can be accessed here, and the abstract is copied below:

While much research has investigated the neural and cognitive characteristics of face recognition impairments (prosopagnosia), much less work has examined their rehabilitation. In this paper, we present a critical analysis of the studies that have attempted to improve face-processing skills in acquired and developmental prosopagnosia, and place them in the context of the wider neurorehabilitation literature. First, we examine whether neuroplasticity within the typical face-processing system varies across the lifespan, in order to examine whether timing of intervention may be crucial. Second, we examine reports of interventions in acquired prosopagnosia, where training in compensatory strategies has had some success. Third, we examine reports of interventions in developmental prosopagnosia, where compensatory training in children and remedial training in adults have both been successful. However, the gains are somewhat limited—compensatory strategies have resulted in labored recognition techniques and limited generalization to untrained faces, and remedial techniques require longer periods of training and result in limited maintenance of gains. Critically, intervention suitability and outcome in both forms of the condition likely depends on a complex interaction of factors, including prosopagnosia severity, the precise functional locus of the impairment, and individual differences such as age. Finally, we discuss future directions in the rehabilitation of prosopagnosia, and the possibility of boosting the effects of cognitive training programmes by simultaneous administration of oxytocin or non-invasive brain stimulation. We conclude that future work using more systematic methods and larger participant groups is clearly required, and in the case of developmental prosopagnosia, there is an urgent need to develop early detection and remediation tools for children, in order to optimize intervention outcome.


June 2014: NHS Choices include prosopagnosia in its A-Z of conditions

We are very excited to report that the NHS Choices website now features prosopagnosia in its A-Z of conditions. In July last year Norman Lamb MP committed to this in the House of Commons in response to Tobias Ellwood’s written question on behalf of our laboratory. The new NHS webpage was written in consultation with Sarah, and recommendsour laboratory for diagnosis and research participation. Read the content here.


June 2014: We host a Roundtable in the House of Commons!

We've been very busy recently promoting parliamentary activity in an attempt to increase awareness of prosopagnosia. The event was hosted by Sarah and Tobias Ellwood MP, and attended by politicians, charity CEOs, academics and representatives from the British Psychological Society. A full report can be found here.


May 2014: Prosopagnosia awareness film

Our new awareness film is now ready! The film is supported by the British Psychological Society and Encephalitis Society, and provides educational material about the theoretical underpinnings of prosopagnosia, and provides insights into life with the disorder. You can view information about the making of the film and the film itself here


April 2014: EPS symposium

Sarah organized a symposium at the Kent meeting of the Experimental Psychology Society, entitled "Recent advances in developmental prosopagnosia research". The symposium was very well-recevied by a large and varied audience, and featured talks from Dr Rachel Bennetts (Bournemouth University), Dr Jeremy Tree and Edwin Burns (Swansea University), Dr Michael Banissy (Goldsmiths), Dr Ashok Jansari (University of East London), and Philip Ulrich (University of Kent). Particular attention was paid to the diagnosis and remediation of prosopagnosia.


April 2014: Sign our e-petition today!

We're campaigning for formal recognition of prosopagnosia via an e-petition that needs 100 000 signatures to get the issue debated in the House of Commons!  Click here for more information and to add your signature.

December 2013: Sarah Presents at the Encephalitis Society Professional Seminar

Sarah recently attended a CPD-recognized professional seminar held by the Encephalitis Society. She presented new findings demonstrating an improvement in face recognition skills in a teenager who acquired prosopagnosia following encephalitis. The girl took part in a 12-week online training programme and subsequently performed better in laboratory tests of face recognition than she had before the training.


September 2013: New factsheets on prosopagnosia

The Encephalitis Society recently published a peer-reviewed factsheet on acquired prosopagnosia, written by Sarah. An adapted version has also been published by Headway. Both versions are available on the charities' webpages.


August 2013: British Psychological Society Public Engagement Grant

Sarah has been awarded a Public Engagement Grant from the British Psychological Society, with additional support from the Encephalitis Society. The money will be used to promote public awareness of prosopagnosia. A film about the condition will be created, and Sarah will host an event that attempts to promote public and profession awareness about prosopagnosia.


August 2013: Intranasal Inhalation of Oxytocin Improves Face-Processing in Developmental Prosopagnosia

Our exciting new paper reporting a way to temporarily improve face recognition skills in developmental prosopagnosia has been accepted for publication in the journal "Cortex". The full-text of the paper is available here, and the abstract is copied below:

Developmental prosopagnosia (DP) is characterised by a severe lifelong impairment in face recognition. In recent years it has become clear that DP affects a substantial number of people, yet little work has attempted to improve face processing in these individuals. Intriguingly, recent evidence suggests that intranasal inhalation of the hormone oxytocin can improve face processing in unimpaired participants, and we investigated whether similar findings might be noted in DP. Ten adults with DP and 10 matched controls were tested using a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind within-subject experimental design (AB-BA). Each participant took part in two testing sessions separated by a 14–25 day interval. In each session, participants inhaled 24 IU of oxytocin or placebo spray, followed by a 45 min resting period to allow central oxytocin levels to plateau. Participants then completed two face processing tests: one assessing memory for a set of newly encoded faces, and one measuring the ability to match simultaneously presented faces according to identity. Participants completed the Multidimensional Mood Questionnaire (MMQ) at three points in each testing session to assess the possible mood-altering effects of oxytocin and to control for attention and wakefulness. Statistical comparisons revealed an improvement for DP but not control participants on both tests in the oxytocin condition, and analysis of scores on the MMQ indicated that the effect cannot be attributed to changes in mood, attention or wakefulness. This investigation provides the first evidence that oxytocin can improve face processing in DP, and the potential neural underpinnings of the findings are discussed alongside their implications for the treatment of face processing disorders.


March 2013: See our research in a documentary on prosopagnosia on Tuesday March 26th 2013!

A documentary following the life of one our teenage participants with acquired prosopagnosia will be shown on the CBBC channel on Tuesday March 26th at 5:45PM (part of the 'My Life' series).  The documentary follows the journey of a 14 year-old girl as she participates in some of our research and meets other people with the condition, including a 12 year-old with developmental prosopagnosia and celebrity Duncan Bannatyne.  An article published in the Telegraph this week provides a preview to the documentary, as does this feature on the BBC website.


March 2013: Sarah delivers talk on prosopagnosia to Bournemouth's Cafe Scientifique

On Tuesday 5th March 2013, I delivered a talk about prosopagnosia at Cafe Boscanova in Boscombe.  It was a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of prosopagnosia and to discuss our research with a very interested audience.  Thanks to everyone who attended the evening and for your thoughtful comments and questions.  You can watch my talk and the discussion session on YouTube.  Find out more about the Cafe Scientifique series by visiting their webpage.


January 2013: Have you seen our new discussion topics?

With the updates to our website now in place, we thought this would be a good time to add some new topics to our Discussion Forum.  You can now add your viewpoints to the following discussions:

And you can still contribute to previous topics:

Why not contribute to these discussions today?  We've had lots of great feedback about the Discussion Forum and how useful it is to share experiences with others.


June 2012: Centre for Face Processing Disorders Awarded £8,250 from Bournemouth University's Fusion Fund

Sarah, Nicola and Rachel have received funding for a series of institutional visits and conference attendance.  The money will be used for attendance of the 'Eye Movement Research and Developmental Disorders' workshop at the University of Newcastle (next week!), and for attendance of the ESRC sponsered seminar series 'Social Perception Across the Lifespan' at Goldsmiths College and UCL.  Nicola will be presenting our research at the European Conference on Eye Movements (Sweden, August), and Rachel will be speaking at the European Conference on Visual Perception (Germany, August).  The whole team (including our student members) plan to present their research on prosopagnosia at the British Psychological Society's joint Cognitive and Developmental Sections' Conference in Reading in September - a real opportunity for us to present the wide variety of research that is supported in our lab!  Finally, Nicola will be using the funds to visit the Universities of Portsmouth and Lincoln, where she will be working on exciting projects in collaboration with researchers at these institutions.


January 2012: New Textbook Published!

Sarah's new textbook, 'Face Recognition and its Disorders', is now available. The book was purpose-written to support teaching on face processing at Bournemouth University, and both undergraduate and MSc students are now using the book to support their studies. You can view the book on Amazon by clicking here.


January 2012: New Postdoctoral Research Fellow Arrives in the Centre for Face Processing Disorders!

We would like to extend a warm welcome to our latest recruit, Dr Rachel Bennetts, who has come to join us all the way from Australia! Rachel completed her PhD examining the influence of motion in face processing at the University of Western Sydney. She will be taking a leading role in carrying out assessments with both adults and children who believe they have face processing deficits. You can read more about Rachel's background profile by clicking here.


October 2011: We're in the Media!

Recent months have seen a flurry of media attention about face blindness, and our research has been featured in several newspaper reports. You can read the on-line versions of the articles on our Media page. We also worked with Watershed TV to film a documentary about the life of one our teenager's with faceblindness. The documentary will be aired at the end of March on the CBBC Channel. Watch this space for further updates...