7–20–16, Lefko

The story of Dr. P.

What Dr. P exhibited is prosopagnosia (literally from the Greek “prosopo=face” and “agnosia=to ‘un’knowing”….this disorder is not entirely uncommon, and is often caused by a lesion to the occipito-temporal region of the brain — namely the fusiform gyrus.

The fusiform gyrus has a particular region within it named the “fusiform face area” (FFA for short), and while no on TRULY understands what the role of the FFA is, it is generally accepted that it is highly activated when staring at faces. In fact, researchers have even found face neurons in the FFA that activate when viewing ONE particular face. For example, there’s a single neuron that would light up for angelina jolie, another for brad pitt, etc. Now, the specific existence of these neurons in humans is still debated since not many people sign up for studies like those, but they are pretty well established in the FFA of monkeys…anyway, back to the gist of the story — prosopagnosia is the inability to put a name to a face (literally) and can lead to some very unusual interactions. Nevertheless, patients are often able to live relatively normal lives because we don’t live in a vacuum and we can hear the people around us.