An exotic term tops Web searches: “prosopagnosia.” What is it?

Popular Web searches are predictable: celebrities, sporting events, scandals. But every once in a while, a truly exotic word rushes into the mix. Today, that term is prosopagnosia.

Prosopagnosia is a rare disorder that is informally known as “face blindness.” The word is a literal combination of the Greek prosopon, “face,” and agnosia, “the inability to recognize objects by use of the senses.”

People who suffer from this condition can’t recognize faces (or have trouble doing so) yet usually are able to identify other familiar objects.

It’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint what precisely caused the surge in interest in the brain impairment, but the inspiring story of a Minnesota woman who graduated college in spite of her prosopagnosia is getting lots of attention. The student, Amanda Green, described living with the condition to the White Bear Press as being “like I’m meeting everyone for the first time every time.”

It’s no surprise that such a condition would capture the imagination of the online world. Facial recognition is vital for getting through the day. However, think about this: What’s one common activity that doesn’t rely on familiar faces? Searching and surfing the Web.

Update: Turns out that “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” featured a question on prosopagnosia today, which, if you follow Occam’s Razor, narrows down the source of the search spike.