Face blindness realisation changed Heather’s life

A former mature student at Teesside University says her life has been completely transformed after realising she has a rare developmental disorder which is characterised by an inability to recognise faces.

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Dr Natalie Butcher and Heather Carabine

Dr Natalie Butcher and Heather Carabine

Heather Carabine, a psychology graduate, went from ignoring people because she did not recognise them to becoming more confident and sociable after recognising that she has Developmental Prosopagnosia.

People with Developmental Prosopagnosia, commonly known as face blindness, often use non-facial cues to recognise others, such as their hairstyle, clothes, voice, or distinctive features.

For some, face blindness can have a significant effect on their everyday functioning. Many describe a fear and avoidance of social situations, such as family gatherings or meetings at work. In extreme cases, people cannot even recognise their family and friends.

Long-term consequences can include a dependence on others, limited employment opportunities, a loss of self-confidence and a restricted social circle.

Heather realised she had the condition after attending a talk while at university and subsequently took part in a study led by Dr Natalie Butcher, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law, and Laura Sexton, a PhD student and Graduate Tutor.

'I didn’t know about the condition until I attended a talk by Dr Natalie Butcher. She showed the psychology society a video and explained all about Developmental Prosopagnosia – it sounded so familiar to me. I was shocked that it was actually a condition,' Heather explained.

'I arranged to meet Natalie to discuss the condition in more detail. I described my problems and after looking at one of Natalie’s books, I realised it was everything I had just described.

'I had been ignoring people because I didn’t recognise them. I realised I’d had this condition my whole life and I only found out in my fifties.'

Heather now works as an Assistant Psychologist in the NHS and has found ways of coping with face blindness.

She said: 'Some adjustments have been made for me at work, such as having access to a quiet space where I can’t see other people to give me a break from trying so hard to recognise faces all day.

'I get great support at work and I don’t let Developmental Prosopagnosia affect my life as much as it did. After taking part in the screening, I am more confident about seeking a formal diagnosis.

'I read up on the condition and learned some coping strategies. When I put them into practice, the change in my life was incredible. I went from having very few friends to having lots of friends.'

Now Dr Butcher and Laura are inviting others who have difficulty recognising faces to get in touch to be screened for the disorder and take part in their research.

Participants will be asked to complete a series of tasks which will assess their ability to learn new faces, recognise famous faces and match faces based upon their identity.

Some evidence suggests people are better at recognising faces from moving images than from static images – an effect known as the motion advantage. The study will use eye-tracking technology to better understand why this effect occurs and whether people with prosopagnosia benefit from seeing facial motion too.

It is hoped that the research will help to form a greater understanding of the recognition deficits which underlie Developmental Prosopagnosia and potentially even offer insights into effective interventions for the condition.

This work supports the University's Grand Challenge Research Theme of Health and Wellbeing, which is part of a wider aim to address some of the global challenges of our time through focus on externally facing research which makes a real, practical difference to the lives of people, along with the success of businesses and economies.

If you would like to find out more or take part in the research, visit the Face Recognition Research Group website.

27 April 2018

In the News

Face blindness realisation changed Heather's life
BBC Look North (North East & Cumbria), 18:42, 03/05/2018
Jonathan Swingler talks to Heather Carabine about her face blindness realisation and discusses research into the condition with Dr Natalie Butcher and Laura Sexton.

Face blindness realisation changed Heather's life
North East Chamber of Commerce, online, 03/05/2018
A former student at Teesside University says her life has been completely transformed after realising she has a rare developmental disorder which is characterised by an inability to recognise faces.

How Heather spent decades ignoring those she knew
Evening Gazette, p10, 28/04/2018, Gazette, online, 27/04/2018
Teesside University graduate Heather Carabine went from ignoring those she knew to becoming more confident and sociable after realising she had face blindness.