Is it possible for people with face blindness / prosopagnosia to draw other people (whose faces they cannot recognize) such that non-face-blind people can recognize the people being drawn ?


According to Bruce & Young model (1986), face recognition is composed of 2 main sub-processes, one more "perceptive" (called structural encoding) and the other one more "associative" (fru, pin, name generation). Bruce & Young model

A person with "apperceptive prosopagnosia" cannot create a precise percept, that is a mental representation of who he's looking at. He's unlikely to be able to draw other people face.

A person with "associative prosopagnosia" can create a percept of who he sees, but he cannot understand who the person is, deficit is semantic not perceptive. In this case, he is able to draw other people face, even though he cannot recognize it.

This subdivision can be found also in object recognition process and its related impairments: apperceptive agnosia and associative agnosia.

It's important to note that all this stuff is heavily theoretical. Reality is much more complex and sometimes unclear.

Bruce, V., & Young, A. (1986). Understanding face recognition. British journal of psychology, 77(3), 305-327.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to cogsci.SE, that's a great answer! It'd be good to include citation/DOI info if you have it handy, since finding "Bruce & Young 1986" without any further info can be a bit of a bear. $\endgroup$ – Krysta Sep 22 '14 at 12:08

Apparently at least some are able to portrait people realistically, some like Chuck Close even photorealistically:

  • http://www.slhuang.com/blog/2012/12/19/prosopagnosia-a-tale-of-someone-with-face-blindness/

    One of the weirdest things about all of this is that I’m an artist—a pretty good artist—and when I draw a portrait, it looks like that person’s face. So I’m clearly able to see distances and features the way I would on an inanimate object. But for some reason, the “recognition” part of facial recognition in my brain is broken.

  • https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/faceblind/conversations/messages/1648
    Unfortunately, the linked GeoCities image of the drawing seems to be unavailable, at least not on archive.org and the GeoCities mirrors I consulted.

  • https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/faceblind/conversations/topics/3012

    I draw really well, even though I can't necessarily remember a face. Drawing it helps. [...]

    My life drawings don't emphasize the face, though, and what I usually do with a face is the significant gestures of the nose, eyebrows, and mouth, rather than a full rendering. I would hate to do a lot of portraits. My flower portraits, however, are right on!

    This post also seems to indicate that drawing other people might help face-blind people to better / more quickly recognize characteristic facial features by training observation skills (assumption mine) although the author admits to struggle with considering all features as I understand it.

  • http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/blog/invisible-man-self-portrait-chuck-close

    A famous example for the assumption above is photorealist painter Chuck Close who himself says that creating portraits of people helps him remember faces better.

    CHUCK CLOSE: Yes. I have a great deal of difficulty recognizing faces, especially if I haven’t — if I have just met somebody, I — I — it’s hopeless. I will never remember them again, unless it’s reinforced over and over and over.

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    $\begingroup$ This is the start of a very good answer. It would be better if you could back these up with something from the literature. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Sep 20 '14 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I haven't found those yet, which is why I asked this question and googled the links above. Might be interesting to conduct such a study oneself... $\endgroup$ – Archimedix Sep 20 '14 at 7:32
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    $\begingroup$ There's no rush. :) If you run across some in your own searches, they will help strengthen the answer. I think we can agree that the content in a Yahoo Groups post is mainly anecdotal. $\endgroup$ – Chuck Sherrington Sep 20 '14 at 9:27

tl;dr - I'm severely faceblind, and I'm better at drawing faces than most people I went to school with. (I was "good at drawing".)

I'm severely faceblind - I don't recognise my face in the mirror, or my husband of 7 years if he's had a haircut or a makeover, or my mum and dad if they aren't standing together (one is very tall and the other is very short). They are my nearest and dearest, and I've walked by them in the street, and "recognised" them in a stranger multiple times.

I've drawn myself, and other people, and my friends and family had no problems working out who I was drawing. In school, I used to do thumbnail sketches of my teachers and classmates, and my friends would look over my shoulder and go "ohhh, that's [name], isn't it?"

A really great artist draws what they actually see, not what they think is there. While I'm not "a really great artist", I do observe body language and overall facial expressions a lot, because that's how I know who someone is. And I literally can't hold an image of a face in my mind, so I have to look back at my model to see what their face looks like.

I can draw figures, faces, hands, birds, no problems.

But a landscape? Cannot draw it to save myself. I just can't draw a tree. I can't figure out how to draw a big thing without drawing the tiny details of it. I have the same problems with a motorbike or a bicycle.

My other big issue in drawing things is that the bottom half of the picture/person often comes out in the wrong aspect ratio. Like I was drawing Martin Luther King, and his face was excellent, but I had somehow extended his face much too far into his forehead. So I had to mess about with it rather a lot to get it to actually look like MLK, instead of some other dude with a low forehead.


As someone with facial blindness I find the barrier to drawing the face similar to the barrier to drawing hands. Familiarity. As people see there hands frequently they have a higher standard for realism and it's hard to make them seem right. Trying to figure out what is necessary and what is giving a picture to much unnecessary detail is harder as you are less familiar with what parts of the face tend to be focused on but with practice and stylisation it can be overcome.

  • $\begingroup$ Also proportions are a real problem. If you keep looking between your reference and your piece you may find proportions distorted $\endgroup$ – Marin Bourgeois Sep 19 '17 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. $\endgroup$ – Arnon Weinberg Sep 19 '17 at 18:15

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