The syndrome, known medically as prosopagnosia, was long thought to be a rare neurological curiosity that resulted from brain damage.
Research has begun to suggest that most face-blindness stems from genes, rather than brain injury, and that it is far more widespread than previously suspected, with up to 2 percent of the population affected to some degree.
—Carey Goldberg, "When faces have no name," The Boston Globe, June 14, 2006
There's a name for Burman's condition: prosopagnosia or, more informally, face blindness. The disorder was thought to be exceedingly rare and mainly a result of brain injury. Until a few years ago, there were perhaps 100 documented cases, says Ken Nakayama, a professor of psychology at Harvard. But last month a team of German researchers took the first stab at charting its prevalence, and the results, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, were remarkable. The new study showed that prosopagnosia (from the Greek prosopon for face and agnosia for ignorance) is highly heritable and surprisingly common, afflicting, in some form, about 1 in 50 people—more than 5 million in the U.S. alone. "That's huge," says Dr. Thomas Grüter of the Institute of Human Genetics in Münster, an author of the paper and himself a prosopagnosic. "It was a real surprise."
—Sora Song, "Do I know You?," Time, July 10, 2006
—Bill Choisser, "Bill's Face Blindness Pages," January 1, 1997