Flipping image bias in artists, and the possible mechanisms?

Hi everyone. First post here.

So i’m a working artist, and i spend a lot of time helping beginner artists skill up. But by far the most difficult skill to learn is how to see and analyze the world accurately.

The basic idea is that if you are drawing an image, what you have in your head and what you have put on the page is not identical, so when you put the image up to a mirror, or flip it in photoshop, the mistakes immediately become apparent and your image looks ghastly to the person that drew it.

What this seems like to me is that flipping the image forces the brain to pass it through the abstraction layers again, but once it’s gone through the flipped abstract image does not match up with what was expected, making the differences stand out in a very unpleasant way.

Now what is interesting is that this skill is trainable, in that if i make an artist sit down and learn to copy, using objective checks to make sure that they are putting the correct lines down. If you do enough of this objective way of checking your perception, this flipping bias over years subsides and doesn’t affect a professional artists work anymore.

What’s also interesting is that this skill isn’t just related to copying, but generating images completely from imagination.

This seems to me to be a thing that hasn’t really been studied in depth, but i could be wrong, and if so, what should i be reading up on?

Are there any useful thoughts that come from this with how they would apply to HTM theory? as it seems like it would directly relate to the idea of allocentric location.


This is really interesting. I wonder, do sculptors report the same phenomena when they view their 3D art as a mirror image?

This is a common research area.

Yes, I know: paywall. Check out the other articles in this issue of cortex.


These don’t seem to be what i’m talking about? thanks for the links though.

This effect isn’t just faces or human figures, it’s any abstract shape or form. It’s a generalizable effect that extends to any drawing regardless of subject matter. And the main thing I am concerned with is research into the ability to improve this area of study as an artist, rather than just confirming that yes it’s a real thing.


Yes pretty sure they do, just to a lesser extent. I’m not a sculptor but a sculptor does mention it here.

“A mirror is an invaluable tool for a sculptor. Not only can you use it to study your own face and expressions, you can use it to check your sculpture for irregularities. Turn your sculpture so it faces a mirror and you will notice lots of things that are not quite right.”

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One of the oldest humans performances is to detect faces. People would like to think that we don’t just look at body parts but indeed - that is how the eye-brain sees. Some of the built-in primitives are eyes, faces, secondary sexual characteristics and body dominance/submissive forms. (human morphology seems to be coded here - we don’t like things with the wrong number of legs like spiders and snakes) These have been shown to exist in the amygdala as part of your lizard brain wiring. These are “transferred” to the cortex over the course of becoming a grown human. This does shape your perception and emotional coding of these stored perceptions. This is really instinctual and there is not much anyone can do about it.

When you say you are viewing something in a mirror you are really saying swap the image left-right. Your left and right hemifields are split in the eye and routed separately into the brain stem on the way through the brain. The lower brain structures process these stream separately. One side (I forget which) responds to "fearful (whatever that is) or looming forms differently - more strongly. I could also see that shaping “pleasant” geometry. I suspect this colors your judgment that something is “right” and is mostly shared between humans.

It would be a shared human inclination that you could train out of - as you have stated. The underlying cortex can be retrained to counteract your original lizard programming.

As you noted - the papers talk about faces as these are easy to study.

If this emotional charge is hardwired into your subcortical structures than whatever these emotional triggers there are now known to be triggered differentially by a left-right orientation may possibly extend to other form recognition circuits.

What may be harder to find - but literature may exist in advertising circles - is what your lizard brain response to emotionally charged material aimed straight at your lizard brain. Certain forms such as curves that trigger your secondary sexual form filter makes shapes more interesting or “right” then they might otherwise be.

A chair’s curves can be angry or sexy. You see someone right-handed as more familiar and correct; due to this you subtly expect a person’s right side to be more developed - bulkier. I suspect that makes it so that when you draw something you feel that a slight bulkiness bias to larger on the left side seems “OK”.

More plainly: When it’s no longer sexy the spell is broken and it is just a form to be recognized as wrong.

I proofread by reading it backward; it’s not a coherent sentence anymore and suddenly I can see the errors. I see this as sort of the same thing.

Assuming I understand the phenom that you are describing, and certain facts gleaned from reading about this part of the brain, this general mix of facts makes sense to me. It is possible that if you structure your search correctly that much has already be learned about this line of inquiry.

Recognising something is a step in characterizing and controlling it. If you could characterize the way the lizard brain colors things then - yes - you can learn that with machine learning.

When i’m talking about things looking “right” i’m not talking about an emotional response. All the papers you talk about refer to emotional responses.

I’m talking about an objective measurement based objective right or wrong, and the ability to reproduce what you see in the world on a page accurately. some of the most common issues are to do with skewing the image or forms, others are to do with proportion. And the more perspective distortion the original image has the more errors are exaggerated.

Think of it this way. humans are able to look at an image, memorize it over the short term and replicate it on a page. The margin of error between the original image and what is on the page at the end is what we can refer to as accuracy, and some portion of that error is not noticable to untrained artists until the image is flipped.

I hope that clarifies what i am talking about.

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If you are exposed to the mirror image first do you see it as incorrect or do you have to view both in rapid succession to spot the difference?

Would fresh eyes see either image as wrong or is there some natural bias to one of the two forms as right and the other not right?

Yes taking time away from looking at the drawing certainly helps, but not as much as flipping it.

The effect of flipping it also goes down with each time it’s flipped. So the first flip has a very strong effect, and every time you do it after it gets weaker and weaker. I would imagine because the image is memorized both ways after multiple flips, but that’s an uninformed guess.

And no it doesn’t need to be in rapid succession.

I think it’s also important to say that the experience of the flip isn’t that it doesn’t look like what you are copying, it’s that your drawing doesn’t look like your drawing. it’s like parts of it have been skewed and warped from what you thought you saw.

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You have an object in your mind you want to create in space. Your projection of that object onto a medium is warped by your perception of the space around that medium. Changing your perception of the medium by flipping it forces your brain to process through a new “lens” of perception and makes you think about how you would project the object in this new lens. This helps you further define the object in your mind.


Yep that’s exactly it!

I think if this exact thing hasn’t been studied it would be interesting designing a test to isolate this effect in people, and compare it against how much artistic experience they have.

If i was to do it i would make an interactive exercise that gets people to copy angles and proportions (vector) and compare against the result, and see how much flipping will let them improve their result. I could probably put something like that together.