Tag Archives: Illusions

Am I the only one who sees…



Brain Games on SBS

This TV series is so much worth viewing if you are interested in psychology, including optical illusions, visual perception and many other interesting things. http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/506325059936/brain-games-power-of-persuasion

FFS, the dress problem isn’t psychological or perceptual

I’ve done my best to ignore the nonsense surrounding That Dress but I’ve lost patience with the abundance of stupidity that has been bought to the discussion. ISN’T IT AS OBVIOUS AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE? Neither the dress nor the photo of the dress are optical illusions. The dress was simply photographed under lighting conditions that gave rise to a photograph featuring colours that markedly differ from the actual colours of the dress as seen under regular lighting conditions, THEREFORE, the dress in the photo is different colours to the dress in reality. Here’s the big news; colours can be manipulated in photography! Amazing isn’t it? This manipulation can be done on a photo in computerized format using various computer applications, or the colours can be manipulated or altered before the photo is taken, by lighting of the scene to be photographed. In effect, the dress in the photo is a tint of the dress in reality. Why the confusion then? The confusion arose because the question “What colour is the dress?” requires clarification, but no one had the smarts to figure out that the question could be and was likely to be interpreted in two different ways, and thus the requirement for a clarification of the question was not identified. Some people, like myself, interpreted the question to mean “What colour is the dress in the photograph?”, and clearly it is a cold, mauvey-blue unsaturated colour and golden brown, no black, definitely no black, as anyone could see if they held an actually black item up against their computer screen while viewing the photo of the dress on their screen. Understandably, many other people interpreted the question as an invitation to guess, reason or theorize what the colour of the dress might be in reality, based on the way it appears in the photo. These people correctly and cleverly guessed or reasoned that the dress is blue and black. I do wonder about those who saw white and gold, but the question was a trick question, so I wouldn’t judge them.

There’s nothing I love more than a good optical illusion or perceptual anomaly, especially in real life situations, but I’m very sure this dress thing is not one of them. This problem appears to be one for the philosophers, not the psychologists or the scientists, but then again, I’m tempted to wonder whether there might be some measurable psychological or neurological or behavioural difference between those who naturally give an answer based on their immediate visual perception and those who naturally give an answer based on their own interpretation of their visual perceptions. I suspect that the difference might be interesting and meaningful. I’ll bet the former are less prone to most genuine visual illusions.


Postscript March 5th 2015

I’d like to add another point to this post. From what I’ve read this entire dress discussion had it’s origin in the non-scientific world of social media “guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the fuck out”. This young lady who does not appear to be a scientist or a psychologist discovered a very interesting perceptual anomaly phenomenon thing that has sparked huge discussion, including discussion by and among scientists, and the story has been reported in at least one international science magazine. I find it interesting that this dress meme didn’t come from the world of science. Would it have been ignored or have failed to “go viral” if a scientist had discovered The Dress? Does this say something about the sociology of this meme, or is it more the case that a non-scientist has discovered a phenomenon that is more interesting (in regard to the way it has identified puzzlingly polarized responses in large numbers of people) than anything that scientists or academics have discovered recently. Is this an example of non-scientists (not even citizen scientists) making a greater contribution to the science of colour perception than the actual scientists who are supposed to be right on top of this stuff? I know that researchers and others have identified many different types of visual illusions that are supposed to trick most or all people, but I’m not aware of a visual stimuli that polarizes viewers the way The Dress does. Am I simply ignorant? As I have written before, I believe that science is too important to leave it to the scientists.

Illusions and natural hallucinations from IFLS


Disappearing face illusion from New Scientist magazine



Salvador Dali certainly had a thing about hidden faces

Looking through our new calendar for the year 2014, a calendar featuring the art of the famous surrealist Salvador Dali, I noticed some works featuring images of faces embedded in paintings that are not of faces. I guess you might call it art designed to give rise to the human perceptual distortion that is known by the term pareidolia. Later we were browsing a fantastic illustrated book about visual illusions, and inside more bizarre creations of Dali could be found that featured hidden faces, along with plenty of other items of visual art by other artists that play with human face perception. Unfortunately, the description in this book of a work of Dali’s is incorrect. In the book there is a photo of a room at the Dali Museum in Figueres in Spain which is incorrectly identified as a portrait of the late blonde American actress Marilyn Monroe. I think it is actually a portrait of the late blonde American actress Mae West, cleverly constructed out of items in a room. The Dali painting Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire is another example of a Dali hidden face, and many more can be found among his prolific works. Dali certainly had a thing about hidden faces, or pareidolia. He even wrote a novel titled “Hidden Faces”. Dali is not the only artist to play with pareidolia. The Wikipedia has a fascinating article about this artistic theme.

Sarcone, Gianni A. and Waeber, Marie-Jo Amazing visual illusions. Arcturus Publishing Ltd, 2011. http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1848378300/archimedeslab-21/

Wikipedia contributors Hidden faces. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hidden_faces&oldid=585474591

Dali, Salvador Hidden faces. London: Owen, 1973.

Mae West Room. Figueres Dali Theatre-Museum. http://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/figueres/en_visita-virtual_4.html

Wikipedia contributors Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=541433189

The “Bloody Mary Illusion” from New Scientist

http://youtu.be/cpF6CgxvvUo    Have you tried it? What did you “see”?

The Bloody Mary Illusion seems to be in some ways similar to another face perception illusion that was evoked by a video which I wrote about at this blog quite a while ago. Here’s links to some versions of the Ugly Face Illusion or the Flashed Face Distortion Effect from New Scientist:  http://youtu.be/o1gtxAIXoiY   http://youtu.be/o1gtxAIXoiY  and here’s another YouTube video not from another source:  http://youtu.be/WMTv4Cpj_8k

I wonder, do some people experience face perception distortion illusions more readily or quickly than others? Could this possibly explain why some people, including some of the people on the autistic spectrum, appear to avoid eye contact? I also wonder whether there is any relationship between face memory or face recognition ability, or facial expression reading ability and a person’s potential to experience face perception illusions. There you go academics! There’s some more ideas of mine to steal. Don’t thank me! (I’m sure the thought wouldn’t enter your heads anyway).

I’m not sure how these facial perception illusions work, but I suspect that they work on a similar principle to an auditory illusion that I’ve read about and heard, in which muted, ambiguous or perceptually confusing stimuli provoke the brain into interpreting the sounds as words. This sound illusion was apparently discovered by Diana Deutsch, a professor of psychology who studies interesting stuff like the psychology f music and perfect pitch ability. Her Phantom Words illusion can be found here: http://philomel.com/phantom_words/example_phantom_words.php

Just for fun, here’s a link to Jamie Frater’s Top 10 Incredible Sound Illusions:  http://listverse.com/2008/02/29/top-10-incredible-sound-illusions/

I don’t see what you see, and vice versa

This blog post from Dr Kevin Mitchell, a synesthesia, brain connectivity and developmental neurogenetics researcher from Trinity College in Dublin at his interesting blog Wiring the Brain is well worth a read, and I think is very relevant to finding an explanation for my gifts and peculiarities in visual perception. I was amazed by the normal variation in size of visual processing areas of the brain, which is probably genetic in origin and isolated from other traits. Australian cognitive science researcher Dr Jon Brock at Macquarie University left a comment suggesting a related possible area for research into autism.

“A negative correlation that has been observed between size of V1 and size of prefrontal cortex in humans might be consistent with such an antagonistic model of cortical patterning.” Fascinating! I’ve got to wonder if this has any relevance to understanding Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy or PCA.

Dr Mitchell’s blog has been in my blogroll for a long time, and if you are looking for some interesting holiday reading about the psychology of visual processing or neuroscience, a good starting point might be my blogroll.

Do you see what I see? by Dr Kevin Mitchell December 12th 2012 Wiring the Brain. http://www.wiringthebrain.com/2012/12/do-you-see-what-i-see.html

Just noticed article about prosopagnosia and face space in special edition of Discover magazine

At the newsagent the other day I noticed a special edition of Discover magazine “The Brain” with the date of Spring 2012. Inside it was an article about face recognition research done by Professor Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University. I am pretty sure that it is the same interesting article that was first published in the January-February 2011 special issue of Discover. The article author Carl Zimmer explained the concept of the face space model of face memory and described a research study which found an interesting difference between an acquired prosopagnosic and some developmental cases and normal control subjects. The article can be read at the website of Discover magazine and can also be found in full-text through at least one of the press and magazine article online services that are offered through public libraries.

Carl Zimmer The brain: seeing the person behind the face. Discover. Jan-Feb 2011 special issue published online January 19, 2011. http://discovermagazine.com/2011/jan-feb/19-brain-seeing-person-behind-the-face

here’s another interesting article at Discover about face recognition

John Horgan Can a single cell recognize your face? Discover. June 2005 edition published online June  5, 2005.  http://discovermagazine.com/2005/jun/single-brain-cell

and here’s a YouTube video in which Dr Marlene Behrmann talks in a  interview about prosopagnosia and gives an authoritative explanationa of what it is. She seems to have a slight South African accent.

Peng, Cynthia Marlene Behrmann – prosopagnosia. goCognitive. uploaded Sep 25, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-z9PGrgPlYw&feature=related

Bizarre face perception distortion effect discovered

When I viewed this video I fund that when I kept my eyes to the centre as directed I saw with my peripheral vision grotesquely distorted faces on both sides right from the beginning, an effect that disappeared if I looked squarely at faces at one side or the other. The faces often looked piggish with noticeable nostrils, alien-like with egg-head foreheads or bug-eyed. I’m quite surprised at how fast this effect set in for me. i think other viewers reported varying effects. What do you see when you view the video?

Flashed Face Distortion Effect: Ugly Optical Illusion
Lambert Varias
July 10th 2011