Police forces should issue comical caricatures of the criminals they are hunting instead of standard photofits, according to a team of scientists who found that cartoon-like faces are better at jolting people’s memories.
A study at the University of Central Lancashire found that over-emphasising prominent features on people’s faces made them twice as easy to identify than before.
John Cleese explores caricature and the brain for the BBC, and why it’s easier for folks to identify a person by caricature, rather than a more “realistic” line drawing:
…what the artist is doing is actually mimicking the very processes that are going on in your own brain when you’re looking at any person
What the brain seems to be doing everytime it looks at a face is searching for differences from the norm. It’s looking for features it can exaggerate and caricature to help it remember the person next time.
Of course, caricature can be the ultimate tool for memory —I’m terrible with names, so I often try to mentally caricature people when I meet them, and also put a big label with their names above their heads (I’ve heard you should write it on their forehead).
Levine…created a powerful image of President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 by alluding to an almost trivial incident: Johnson exposing the scar on his belly from a recent gall bladder operation. But Mr. Levine turned the scar into a defining physical characteristic of the man. He also turned it into his defining political characteristic because the scar was a map of Vietnam. The caricature was accurate to the point of prophecy: it showed the wound that was to bring down the president.
More from the article:
Physically, caricature typically takes a particular feature — a hairdo, a verbal tic, a hand gesture, an accent — and exaggerates it, giving it such prominence that we come to see the person in a new and different light….The word comes from the Italian “caricare,” meaning “to overload.” Some characteristic is heavily piled on: the elongated nose, the prominent belly, the bulbous eyes. Caricature seems to have its earliest associations with portraits that showed human subjects to be transformed animals. This can be just a trick of perception, but the art comes from connecting physical characteristics to character, the way Leonardo da Vinci did in his human-animal hybrids. For a great caricaturist, physiognomy is a reflection of the hidden soul: by showing us something exaggerated, something overlooked is revealed.