Man with rare condition sees people’s faces as ‘demons’

Some people see other people’s faces as disturbing and distorted demons, and it’s all due to a strange disease.

This condition is called prosopometamorphopsia (PMO) and causes people to perceive that others have faces with altered facial shapes, colors, sizes and positions.

Now, in a new article in the magazine The Lancet, researchers have revealed what people with PMO see when they look at others. This is the first paper to provide photorealistic representations of the facial distortions seen by people with PMO.

Computer-generated images of the distortions of a male face (top) and a female face (bottom), as perceived by the patient in the study. The patient has a condition called prosopometamorphopsia, which causes faces to be perceived…


A. Mello et al.

These images are based on what a 58-year-old patient with PMO who has a unique case of the disease sees, that is, when he sees faces in real life they are distorted, but if they are on a screen, they are ‘t.

This made him an ideal candidate to study the condition, as researchers could ask him how accurate the distorted versions of the faces he made on the screen were, compared to his real-life experience.

“In other studies of the condition, patients with PMO cannot assess how accurately a visualization of their distortions represents what they see because the visualization itself also represents a face, so patients will also perceive distortions in it.” the main author Antônio Mello. , a doctoral student in Dartmouth’s Department of Brain and Psychological Sciences, said in a statement.

“Through the process, we were able to visualize the patient’s real-time perception of face distortions.”

The exact cause of the condition is still unclear, but theories have suggested that it may arise from damage or problems with brain areas, including the fusiform face area (FFA) or superior temporal sulcus (STS), or even and all a manifestation of epilepsy.

The condition is quite rare, with only about 75 case reports of people with PMO having been published.

The severity of the condition varies from person to person, with different parts of the face being affected and different factors (shape, size, color) being more affected than others. The length of time a person is affected by PMO can also vary, over “days, weeks, or even years,” according to the researchers.

In the paper, the authors describe how they created these representations. They first took a photo of a person’s face, then showed the patient the image on a screen while also looking at that person’s face in real life. They then modified the image on the screen until it matched the patient’s perception of the person, using their real-time input.

distorted faces
Computer-generated images of patient-perceived distortions of a male face. Different people with PMO may perceive faces in different distorted ways.

A. Mello et al.

The researchers hope this study will help health professionals take PMO more seriously, as people are often dismissed as having another mental illness.

“We’ve heard from several people with PMO that psychiatrists have diagnosed them with schizophrenia and put them on antipsychotics, when their condition is a problem with the visual system,” lead author Brad Duchaine, professor of psychology and brain. sciences and principal investigator at Dartmouth’s Social Perception Lab, said in the statement.

“And it’s not unusual for people who have PMO not to tell others about their problem with face perception because they fear that others will think the distortions are a sign of a psychiatric disorder,” says Duchaine. “It’s a problem that people often don’t understand.”

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