Brad Pitt Says He Suffers From Face-Blindness: ‘Nobody Believes Me’

He says he comes off as ‘remote and aloof’.

Brad Pitt

by Samuel Fishwick |

Brad Pitt gave a generous interview to GQ this week, holding forth on his recurring nightmare about being stabbed in the chest, the year he spent looking for buried treasure in the vineyard he shares with Angelina Jolie (spoiler alert: no treasure), and his rather sad divorced dad fridge, in which he keeps practically nothing.

But he also gave a full account of his ‘prosopagnosia’, the inability to recognise people’s faces that’s otherwise known as face blindness. Brad, 58, has never been diagnosed as such, but is sure this would explain why he struggles to remember people and can come off as ‘remote and aloof’.

What is prosopagnosia, or ‘face blindness’?

The NHS describes prosopagnosia as a condition where you ‘cannot recognise people’s faces’, and Brad says he has difficulty remembering new people and recognising their faces, especially in social settings such as parties. You might not tell your aunt apart from your mother. Or, in extreme cases, yourself in the mirror apart from a stranger about to barge into you.

‘No one ever believes me’, said poor Brad. ‘I wanna meet another.’ He may well be right. Prosopagnosiacs are usually highly adept at working around their disability that they trick everyone into thinking that they are normal, including themselves. The NHS says it may impact one in 50 people.

Are there any famous people with ‘face blindness’?

Oliver Sacks, the British neurologist and author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. In a 2010 piece for The New Yorker, he revealed that he, too, had moderate prosopagnosia.

‘Thus, on several occasions I have apologised for almost bumping into a large bearded man, only to realise that the large bearded man was myself in a mirror,’ Sacks wrote. ‘The opposite situation once occurred at a restaurant. Sitting at a sidewalk table, I turned toward the restaurant window and began grooming my beard, as I often do. I then realised that what I had taken to be my reflection was not grooming himself but looking at me oddly.’

Jane Goodall, the British primatologist who lived among the apes, is said to have had a moderate diagnosis, too. ‘I have huge problems with people with "average" faces,’ she said. ‘I have to search for a mole or something. I find it very embarrassing! I can be all day with someone and not know them the next day.’

What causes prosopagnosia?

An olive-size lump of brain located just above and behind each of your ears — the fusiform face area (FFA). ‘The FFA seems to come programmed with information about facial configuration — two eyes above a nose above a mouth,’ says The Washington Post’s Sadie Dingfelder, who also has mild to moderate prosopagnosia. ‘Researchers shining lights onto the bellies of pregnant women have found that third-trimester fetuses orient to this pattern, as do babies who are just a few hours old.’

A few people become face blind when they have an FFA-damaging stroke, but most face-blind people simply seem to be born with faulty FFAs.

What should I do if I think I have prosopagnosia?

There’s no specific treatment for prosopagnosia, according to the NHS. But you should certainly talk to your GP. Many people with prosopagnosia develop compensatory strategies to help them recognise people, such as recognising a person's voice, clothing or the way they walk. But it can be a lonely world, in which everyone seems like a stranger.

Dingfelder says that an interesting thing about people who are born face blind — the so-called developmental prosopagnosiacs — is that they are otherwise normal. Prosopagnosiacs tend to be smarter than average, perhaps because they often have lonely childhoods with lots of time for reading, thinking and other solitary pursuits.

But she has some wise words from her father for those like Brad. ‘Everyone just wants to talk about themselves,’ he said. ‘Just ask a lot of questions, and they’ll think you’re the most fascinating person in the world.’

She took this tip back to college, and ‘it transformed my life. In one semester, I went from being lonely all the time to having too many friends to fit into my dorm room.’

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