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By on November 1, 2010, with 149 Comments

There was an interesting article on PsychWorld last week. It points out how us humans, as intelligent creatures, have a pretty remarkable ability to recognize faces. But what would happen if the faces we see got obscured in some way? Like upside-down heads with inverted eyes and lips? How about if they were made into pixelized blocks, for instance? Would we still able to make out who might be depicted in those obscured images?

These pixelized block portraits were inspired by Leon Harmon and Bela Julesz’s 1973 Lincoln Illusion. If I’m right, there should be no problem for you to recognize who are the famous people in the following images.

Try squinting your eyes as much as you can, or look from afar if you need to. The only thing that might prevent you from recognizing the correct celebrity, is if you are not very familiar with American culture

I just can’t believe our brain’s ability to pick up a face from such intensively reduced images! When you think about it for a second, these images are consisted of just a few single-colored squares! Also, be sure to notice, how photos become almost sharp if you squint your eyes enough. Solution can be found inside article’s tags…

  • Mark P

    The only one that threw me was the third one. I’m going to guess that it’s Conan O’Brian.

    I don’t watch his show so I’m not that familiar with his face.

  • Aja

    That’s pretty neat!
    from top to bottom it’s Martin Luther King, the Clintons, Conan O’Brian, Elvis Presley, Mona Lisa and Albert Einstien.

  • chris

    ok so this is what i think what is what:

    1) Dr martin luther king
    2) john and cindy mccain(?)
    3) conan o’brien
    4)i dont really know about this…but Elvis?

    The last 2 are obvious:

    5)Mona Lisa (painting)
    6)albert einstein

    Hope this is correct!

    • chris

      nonono, i thinks its bill and hillary clinton… idk sorry!

  • Abraham

    Lets see if I got them right. MLK, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Conan, Elvis (guess it was a little harder or at least different), Mona Lisa, Einstein.

  • climber59

    They remind me of minecraft.

  • JMAN12

    This is really cool. I can nearly see all the faces! SQUINT TO SEE BETTER!!!!

  • Chris

    Martin Luther King, Mona Lisa & Einstein. I’m pathetic, I don’t know the names of the others but know who they are. xD

  • josephine

    Martin Luther King JR.
    George Bush and Barbara Bush
    Elvis (this one amazes me that people can pick it out)
    Mona Lisa
    George Washington

  • vrej

    the last one is albert einstien sticking his toungue out. the fist one is MLK.

  • Stephen

    I had trouble with the 2nd one, not able to tell clearly if that’s Bill & Hillary or GW & Laura. I also couldn’t tell what/who the 4th picture is at all, and the last one I thought it was George Washington. But I wear correction lenses. If I look at the images from about 2 feet away with my glasses off, the images are clear as day!

  • damaja

    Martin Luther King
    Bill & Hillary
    Conan O’Brian
    Mona Lisa

  • Blizzard4800

    what is the second and third one

  • toto

    Martin Luther King
    Bill/ Hillary Clinton
    Conan o Brien?
    Elvis PResley
    Mona lisa
    Alber Einstien

  • SnowBerey

    AMAZING!!!!!! but who are the two pics after george bush? (first to comment!!!!!!!!!!!)

  • illusionist

    The Clintons
    Conan O’Brian
    Mona Lisa

  • Jesper

    It’s amazing.. And you’re right, as long as you know the people you can recognize them..

  • Slammer

    That’s incredible…

  • Marie

    The first one is Dr. MLK and the last one is Einstein. Working on the others.

  • Kathy

    Martin Luther King
    Bill & Hillary Clinton
    Conan O’Brian
    Elvis Presley
    Mona Lisa
    Albert Einstein

  • carlH

    Who’s that after Conan and before Mona Lisa?

  • jay zee


  • Janessa

    That is so cool I’ve never noticed that before, but it is still a little blurry.

  • somebody

    That is cool, I’ve never noticed it before, but it is still kind of blurry.
    It’s still really awesome!!!!!!

  • somebody

    That is so awesome, but still kind of blurry!!!!!

    It’s also cool that I’m the first person to write a coment on this optical!!!!!

  • http://gamejolt.com/profile/epoch-games/2457/ patrick

    had most of them

  • MummyCute

    1 – martin luther
    2 – clinton & hillary
    3 – conan o’brian
    4 – i think it’s elvis
    5 – monalisa
    6 – einstein

  • galloots


  • ann

    MLK, Bushes, Conan, Elvis, Mona and George???

  • ann

    Bushes or Clintons or ???

  • Brooks

    A truly wonderful effect. I was able to identify all the pictures ( at least I had a solution for each picture). Perception with in the brain is a wonderful process, I think it looks for specific comparators and only a few might resolve the unique perception of each picture.

  • Dr.T

    That is an interesting concept. The only ones I don’t get are the middle two which tells me either I don’t watch enough TV or I am just retarded.

  • Ross

    Great! Interesting how when saved the thumbnail is so clear.
    Another one is how the brain will reorientate letters within an incorrectly written word & still be legible as long as the first and last characters are correct the rest can be jumbled and yet can still be read, ie.
    eevn tohguh tehse wrdos are jubmeld tihs psasgae sohuld stlil be rabealde…maybe a bad example.

  • billyz

    MLK, Bill and Hillary, Coco, Elvis(?), Mona Lisa, Einstein

  • Duh

    I recognized most of these without squinting.

  • Selma Vespper Cahtarevic

    I saw some, mona lisa, bill clinton,einstein,elvis?,jfk? :Dvery entertaining

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Brown/1155429974 Mike Brown

    I’m absolutely amazed by this. It’s almost as if my brain is overlaying an image from my memory so I can see the picture more clearly. Very interesting effect.

  • daisy

    I got Elvis wrong…thought it was Michael Jackson. Very cool though!

  • Davor

    Wow, this is something different. Very good. The only one I can’t get is below Conan O’Brien and above the Mona Lisa.

  • Davor

    Ah, if I squint my eyes, I see, it’s Elvis.

  • Karlie

    Yep tis pretty cool! I’m not american but I got them all except Elvis:)

  • Louie

    1.Martin Luther King
    2.Bill and Hilary Clinton
    3.Conan O’Brien
    4.Elvis Presley
    5.Mona Lisa
    6.Albert Einstein

  • A Snail

    Nice pictures, and yes its amazing what the human brain can interprate. I couldn’t work out how to find the answers, but I can have a pritty good guess at all but the 3rd one. I think Elvis is probably the most impressive one. Its just as well that the brain can interprate images from a few pixesl because the windows icons are often only 16 by 16 pixels.
    PS I shrunk the pictures rather than squinting which works just as well.

  • Faith

    martin luther king, george bush and laura, i dnt knw, mona lisa, and einstein?

  • Joey יוסי Tillman

    i got mlk jr, the clintons, conan obrien (haha just a guess. i really have no idea), elvis, the mona lisa, and einstein. this is really cool

  • Josh

    Calling Mona Lisa American culture might be a bit odd…

  • Apurva

    Martin Luthar King Jr
    Bill & Hillary Clinton
    Conan O’brien
    Elvis Presley
    Mona Lisa

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terra-Wah/1695117885 Terra Wah

    I don’t think it’s just the faces, the entire image will help us recognise the subject. For example, the Mona Lisa an that picture of Einstein are seen so many times by most people that just seeing the composition and colours would be enough to trigger the memory.

  • NetGier

    Dear Vurdlak,

    I am reading your blog for several years now and was very impressed. Yesterday I posted my first 2 ct about an illusion. It seems to me, you didn’t like it very much because it was gone today. Because I think, that deleting posts is censorship, I wish all the best for you and your site.


    NetGier (deleting bookmark of moi)

  • Atif

    Just as the title states: truly wonderful concept. I still can’t believe I got all of the names right :)

  • batman

    I can’t figure out the middle one…

    the Clintons
    …? Elvis? John Travolta?
    Mona Lisa

    The Mona Lisa and Einstein pictures are so famous, when I squint my eyes, I feel like I see all the details because I know the image so well.

  • Engywuck

    That is truly amazing. The fact that I recognized all photos with a glimpse shows two things:
    - our brain is brilliant in detecting patterns
    - OK, Einstein and Mona Lisa are from Europe but American culture is really present in germany ;-)
    The picture of Martin Luther King worked best for me.

    • txedomoon

      and yet we put filters like these on our shower doors to “stop” people from seeing us naked! heh heh

  • alex

    3 mario 4 mona lisoa, only be the colors though…

  • alex

    5 einstein duh

  • alex

    #2 is obviously some american political; couple, burn in hell i say

    • Wess25

      Yeah, stick it to the Clintons. We hate ‘em in America too.

  • Kimon

    It is amazing indeed.
    I think it is related to a need to recognize friend from foe at a long enough distance (simulated by the poor quality of the photos) so as to be able to react accordingly. Remembering and recognizing faces is part of functioning in a highly complex social environment.

    All these photos are widely popular. Try showing the same people in other postures/clothes/settings. Nobody will recognize them.

  • Gregory Padilla

    If you don’t want to see the answers, stop reading now.

    Stop now.

    I’m like so seriously you guys.

    Here goes (mixed in caps in case your scanning down the page and don’t want spoilers. Hey! Maybe that’s a kind of optical illusion in itself? I call it, ‘Text Protection’! Dibs.).

    1. maRTin lUthER kInG jR.
    2. tHe clINToNs, wIllIAm jEfFeRsoN and hIlLaRy rOdHam
    3. President of Finland, Tarja Kaarina Halonen (just kidding, that’s actually cOnAn o’bRiEn)
    4. elViS prESLey
    5. A little-known painting called La Gioconda- Hah! Didn’t even have to ‘Protext’ (that’s the new name I’ve come up with for ‘Text Protection’) that one.
    6. aLbErt eINstEIn

    That’s all for the spoilers.

    But I still have one question: what is the solution to the Mysterious Shape Illusion from October 20, 2010. The text clearly said,

    “The below provided ink-ish flecks, when understood properly, give only one correct answer. So what it is?”

    I’m still dying to know. What is that ‘one correct solution? Did anyone ever definitively give an answer?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matias-Hosiasson/743778493 Matias Hosiasson

      Very good (and funny) post, and I also want to know the blotted spots answer… the woman+hat seemed to vague.

    • Bryce

      Agreed with Gregory. The failure to answer the question about the Mysterious Shapes Illusion seems a bit rude since the comments express opinions but no definitive answer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jens-Hykkelbjerg/100000809227264 Jens Hykkelbjerg

      I agree with Gregory Padilla. The “Mysterious shapes” illution from october 20th really needs a definite answer. Either that or it’s a big practical joke – haha I posted a lot of random black & white blobs claiming there was only one solution, lets see if the readers buy it :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eugenia-Ng/100001204056632 Eugenia Ng

      wow, how can you “decode” all those things! i mean, i can see martin luther king, the clinton couple, mona lisa, einstein and all, but elvis? it’s way too blurry!

      and i thought mona lisa is “la jaconda”, not “la gioconda”? which is in either French or Italian, if i’m not mistaken.

    • Gregory Padilla

      @ Matias- Thanks for the compliment. I’ll try to make all my future posts funny and insightful.

      @ Bryce and Jens- I’m not sure what’s up with the ‘Mysterious Shapes’ illusion. Looks like for now it will continue to remain mysterious. I think one reason it is so vexing, is that unlike many illusions on this site, this one presents itself as a problem with a solution. There is definitely a part of me that is unsatisfied at the lack of apparent resolution. I’ll continue to ask whenever I think it’s appropriate. I guess time will tell if we ever get an answer.

      @ Eugenia- I guess I’m just good at assuming things based on very little information. That’s probably why I’m frequently making an ass of myself! The Clintons were a little difficult for me to see, but mostly on account of my brain resolving President Clinton’s pixels into Barry Bostwick.


      Elvis was the most troublesome. I had to squint to see the Clintons. Elvis required me to step back from my computer and squint. I think those sideburns are what solidified the image in my mind. Once I saw the sideburns, the curled lip and wavy hair popped right into focus.

    • Jules

      @ Gregory Padilla

      5 is definitely the Mona Lisa.. I don’t know where you got La Gioconda.
      bus yes, the tags definitely give it away :)

    • http://mirrorsmusingsandmagic.blogspot.com Rads

      ‘Protext’. I like that. Patent it! And name me co-inventor or whatever just for suggesting it. >.>

      Anyway, about the ‘Mysterious Shapes’ illusion, it was one of those inkblot tests psychologists use.

      There *is* no right answer. People see, well, just what they see!

  • Fifinho

    The tags at the end sorta give it away… :/ lol but I got all but the first one anyways :)

    • http://koaieus.eu.pn Koaieus

      Agreed :) Just like the illusion of the black and white spots some days ago

  • Tom

    Can’t quite make out the couple in the second picture, but the rest are pretty straightforward. Interesting!

  • nockgeneer

    Well, last one’s obviously Einstein and the second last is the Mona Lisa. I’m also fairly certain the second one is Bill Clinton. This is really interesting how it’s possible to pick up the faces. It all has to do with pattern recognition which is something no computer can match the human brain for.

    It would be neat to see if it’s possible to fool someone into thinking they’re looking at a face when in fact it’s just a bowl of fruit or something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Debby-Eaton/713506395 Debby Eaton

    ok I am going to give this a shot even though I am English and really not very good at recognising people at all.
    1 – Martin Luther King
    2 – Bill and Hilary Clinton
    3 – Haven’t got a clue
    4 – Have got even less of a clue
    5 – Mona Lisa
    6 – Albert Einstein
    You have my permission to laugh if I have got them all wrong :-)

    • Zwaan

      This makes me think of those old style adventure games I used to play (Monkey Island, Day o.t. Tentacle, Indiana Jones by Lucasart or the Hand of Fate series by Westwood). They weren’t as detailed as games nowadays, but your brain filled in the details just like it does with these pictures. It probably has to do with already knowing the pictures. For some reason I recognised all people but #4 even now that I know who it is.

    • Justin Roose

      1 – Martin Luther King
      2 – Bill and Hilary Clinton
      3 – Conan O’Brien
      4 – Elvis Presley
      5 – Mona Lisa
      6 – Albert Einstein

      :) this was fun

  • Pate

    there’s this psychological disorder called prosapagnosia – inability to recognize faces
    that’s why people are studying exactly how our brains process faces
    just sharing i^_.~’

  • Anon

    Very nice! :)

  • eric

    dude keep that bigot crap to urself, you r a worthless cretaure

  • eric

    * creature

  • Typeaux

    All of them easy except for the one between Conan O’Brian and Mona Lisa. Someone said “Elvis Presley” — and I suppose it could be, but it doesn’t quite gel for me — could just as easily be Johnny Depp, James Dean or a young Bob Dylan.

  • Shtnly

    Please stop “alex” from commenting.

  • me

    OMG You gotta look at these through a mirror about 10 ft away they look like the actual image

    • Monxy

      Oh great tip. It really does look like a normal picture. I’ve got a mirror right on the opposite part of the room so it’s kinda easy for me to do.

    • noo

      you know u don’t need a mirror, you can just move yourself a few feet away and look at the screen!

    • yes

      zoom out ;)

  • me

    Hey Vurdlak whats ur email i want 2 send u a few optical illusions

  • Jessica

    Omg, if you look at them cross eyed you can see the picture somewhat clearly! :D

  • HP

    Please remove the offensive comment by Alex.

  • Tom


  • Care Bear

    What a bunch of squares. No, really, that’s pretty cool.

  • Andrew

    Pate…u herd that on cbc radio eh?

  • wrecked

    i’m amazed that i recognised elvis becouse the pic reely is reducet to a few pixels…fascinating i say

  • Gus Michael

    They all look like minecraft people.

  • Franco

    Number Four: could be Dean Martin?

  • ELC

    I am just giving a suggestion for your website..I think it would be great if there was a “flag” or report button on here because I just saw a ver offensive comment. I know you have to approve the comments, but I’m sure a few, like the one I just saw slip through. If you had a flag button that sent the comment to your email or whatever so you could take if off if need be, that would be great.

    • Garry

      Alex-I cannot belive you said thst. Shsme on you.

      Vulrdak- thank you for deleating the horrible comment. I think, because of that instance, there should be a flag button, like ELC said

  • ice

    i can see the pictures better if i dont look through my glasses: it really looks like the famous photo, only a little blurry – this is the only time not using glasses helps me see better. lol. But i did not know the person in third photo with red – not familiar with him.

  • Wayne Francis

    And alex you’re an racist prick.

    • Wess25

      what did he say? it must have been taken down

    • ELC

      you don’t want to know

  • Greg44jack

    Alex- the use of the word…Good Lord I cant even say it… is so innapropriate for this forum, you should be ashamed of your self…Do not judge others lest you be judged..The Bible!!!

    • ben

      Greg44Jack, but the bible is a large collection of fairy-tales, not a collection of facts backed up with solid evidence… you can’t tell him he should be ashamed of himself when you are forcing your beliefs on him, i am too actually but i lack any care for people who push their religion on others

    • yoda

      the bible is not a collection of fairy tales, but its not true facts. its a belief that you have no right to insult

    • atimnie

      You have the right to insult anyone or anything you want, it’s in the constitution, freedom of expression. You may be offended by what someone says, but nowhere in the constitution does it give you the right not to be offended.

  • pilgrim

    i thought #4 was michael jackson?

  • Richard Haviland

    Recognized all but one. Amazing how the human mind can recognize printed images from different shaded squares. Ihave seen pictures of all but one of the illusions so I have no idea who it is. Great illusion………

  • Voigt_Meister

    While they are all good, the Clintons and Conan stand out and come into an amazing focus from about 2 meters away. The smaller squares make these images that much better. Excellent.

  • anonymous

    what a doosh bag!!!

  • http://creative-imaginations.net Tyeise

    Actually, if you think about it, the answer is right in front of you. Everyone is familiar with icons/avatars. You can almost always recognize the item/person in them. These pictures are just blown up in size so that you can see the pixels. By standing far away, you are reducing it’s size back to what you would be familiar with in an icon. :-)thumper.jpg
    For example, if you’ve seen the movie “Bambi”, you will recognize Thumper.

  • Sue

    This is probably my favorite post, and I’ve been coming here daily for about 2 years now. Very nice one, Vurdlak.

  • aytee

    I thought the last one was George Washington??

  • xKeVyOx

    I hate to say it, but I think you’re all wrong about that last one being Albert Einstein. Looks more like George Washington to me. it’s the shape of the mouth that gives it away.
    GW. was known for ‘not smiling’. I think because he had bad, or wooden teeth. :\

    • Vurdlak


  • GeeJay

    If you’re short sighted and wear glasses (not so easy if you have contacts) take your glasses off and you’ll see the faces much more clearly

  • John

    wow, I got em all, first try

  • Jaimie

    I got mostly all of them, except for the Elvis one. I thought that was Michael Jackson

  • Abraxas

    This is cool… but have nothing to do with an illusion !

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kayla-Marshall/100001173732338 Kayla Marshall

    the first one is Marin Luther King jr, the 4th one is elvis. the last one is albert einstien, i know this because of Vurdlak’s pic

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kayla-Marshall/100001173732338 Kayla Marshall

    oh! and second to last is mona lisa

  • Bill

    Gee whiz,

    If Bret Farve had just used this, he wouldn’t be in as much trouble!

  • ggg

    I know that people are saying #4, the one below conan obrien is Elvis presley, but this picture could also very well be James Dean.

    They are very similar and there are many pictures taken with Dean in this pose.

    After searching the Net however, i believe the picture is elvis because i found a pose of him in what appears to be the exact angle and colored black shirt. Although the James dean pictures are nearly 100% identical.

    Also, it could be Mario from Super Mario Bros for nintendo.

    It definatly isnt mario, but most certainly has a mario appearance.

  • Jafendel

    I’m rather shortsighted and I have to agree about the glasses part. Without them, I get the pictures very easily. Elvis was a little too blurry, but recognizable.

    • Anonymous

      Taking off your glasses really works! Especially with Albert Einstein.

  • Unnamed

    the elvis one was hard, i had to cheat to get it right, and i thought the einstien one was george washington :P

  • johnny tapia

    this Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton

  • Shriya

    that is awesome! But you shouldn’t squint your eyes it’s harmful!!!

    • Pancreas McGlockenspiel

      So how come Japanese people live so long then?

  • xander

    take your cell phone and look at it on zoom from at least 5 feet away its awesome <3

  • jzjess23

    without squinting or anything i knew 2 of them were albert enstien and the mona lisa, the others couldnt figure out squinting or not lols

    • jzjess23

      retrying and i do see elvis presly, bill clinton and martan luther king actually but cant make out the other one :(

    • alyson

      i think its Cohan or something like that, its the hair

  • mark

    This isn’t the ability to recognize a face, it’s an ability to recognize a famous picture. If it was just some random ordinary picture of Einstein, you wouldn’t recognize it.

    It’s the fact that each of these are relatively well known photos, or they provide some fairly unique details (the combination of style of dress, hair color, and relative height in the case of the Clintons, along with hair and skin tone in O’brien’s case)

    In no case are we recognizing the face.

  • laura

    it was so easy its martin luther king, bill clinton, conan o brian, elvis presly, mona lisa, and i think george washington i could find this all out and im only 13!!!

    • lra

      George Washington? lmfao that’s Albert Einstein.

    • A Banana

      @ laura haha!! good 1!! ya sure it was soo easy tht you just mistakenly put george washington 4 albert einstein!! lol :D

  • Jackson

    1st: Martin Luther King Jr.
    2nd: Bill and Hilary Clinton
    3rd: Conan O’Brien
    4th: Elvis Presley
    5th: Mona Lisa
    6th: Albert Einstein
    in case no one else wrote it down

    • jenya

      thats what i got

  • Joe Karl

    I am from other country, the ability to see the picture, regardles of who is, is what is all about. You get it.

  • galahad

    the question is does this work with less famous photos of people… IE. not the washinton found on the bank note, and not the most famouse picture of elvis or a famour picture like the mona lisa… Dose this work with a picture of a person you know but never seen that picture before?

  • kevin

    WOW so cool get ur phone and ul see the image a bit clear LOL> i got it all too except luther but ive seen that picture, Well im an asian though :D

  • Annie

    um im eight years old, born in good ol’ Kansas, USA, and i didnt recognize Martin Luther King Jr. i could recognize i think George Bush, Mona Lisa, George Washington all without squinting

    • kevin

      Not recognizing Martin Luther King… from Kansas… hmm, i am not surprised

  • ivan

    Guys if you’re near sighted and wear glasses take off your glasses and you well see the pictures like they were regular pictures. I guess the blur blends in the pixels and their colors to make it more detailed

  • http://thetribulationtimesherald-exhorter.blogspot.com/ LD

    Squinting helps a lot for these.

  • Steve


  • Dani

    I thought the Elvis one was James Dean!

  • Gary

    Zoom your browser way out (Hold CTRL and – ) 8 times, and you will see them all perfectly clear.

  • Victor

    or CTRL+scroll_down to zoom out

  • Joseph

    I got MLK, Bill Clinton ,Mona Lisa and Albert Einstien

  • nushi

    is it just me or does no. 3 look a little bit like barney stinson? i no he is conan ‘o brien tho

  • tomdanme

    I could only recognize Mona lisa because I live in the UK.