January 4th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

Human Factor: Faces never familiar to famed doctor

In the Human Factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces you to survivors who have overcome tremendous odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Be inspired by their successes, as we have been. Today, renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks explains how he has coped with the rare but real disorder known as face blindness.

I have had difficulty recognizing faces for as long as I can remember. My inability to recognize schoolmates would cause embarrassment and sometimes offense— it did not occur to them (or to me, for that matter) that I had a perceptual problem. I recognized close friends without much problem, but this was partly because I identified particular features: Eric had heavy eyebrows and thick spectacles, and Jonathan was tall and gangly, with a mop of red hair.

I had no trouble recognizing my parents or my brothers, though I was less adept with my huge extended family and completely lost trying to identify them in family photos.

But I still sometimes fail to recognize my assistant, who has worked with me for  27  years. I have what neurologists call prosopagnosia—an inability to recognize individual faces as most people can.


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Filed under: Brain • Human Factor

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.