Why can people with developmental prosopagnosia recognise some familiar faces? Insights from subjective experience

Emma Portch, Liam Wignall, Sarah Bate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Developmental prosopagnosia is a relatively common visuo-cognitive condition, characterised by impaired facial identity recognition. Impairment severity appears to reside on a continuum, however, it is unknown whether instances of milder deficits reflect the successful use of spontaneous (typical) face recognition strategies, or the application of extraneous compensatory cues to recognition. Here, we explore this issue in two studies. First, 23 adults with developmental prosopagnosia were asked about their use of spontaneous versus compensatory face recognition techniques in everyday life, using a series of closed- and open-ended questions. Second, the same participants performed a computerised famous face recognition task where they were asked to provide reasons why they could make any successful identifications. Findings from both studies suggest that people with developmental prosopagnosia can successfully, and quite frequently, use compensatory strategies to recognition, and that these cues support the majority of instances of preserved familiar face recognition. In contrast, 16 of the 23 participants were able to spontaneously recognise familiar faces on at least some occasions, but there were vast individual differences in frequencies of success. These findings have important implications for our conceptualisation of the condition, as well as for diagnostic practice.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15497
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2023


  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Medicine
  • General Neuroscience


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