My column for SEEDMAGAZINE.COM today covers the fascinating research on perceptual illusions. While these illusions are often amazing in their own right, what’s more important is what they tell us about the visual system, and how common they really are:
Are you sitting in a swivel office chair as you read this article? Would you like to see a remarkable visual illusion? Just push yourself back from your desk and spin around four or five times from right to left with your eyes open. Then look back at this screen. You’ll probably notice that now the onscreen text appears to be moving from left to right.
Of course, few adults are very impressed by this illusion because we’ve all experienced it as children. But here’s an illusion you may have not seen:
Stare at the red dot in the center of the figure for a minute or two. Before long, the green ring will disappear–it simply seems to fade into the white background. There are no tricks: This is a simple, static image file. The effect has been known for more than two centuries and is named for its discoverer, Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler (1780-1866), a Swiss physician and philosopher. “Troxler fading” is actually related to what you experience when you get “dizzy”: You become so habituated to a phenomenon (spinning in a circle or seeing a green ring in your peripheral vision) that you stop noticing it’s there. Or, rather, you don’t realize that your perceptual system has begun actively ignoring it. It’s only when your circumstances change that you see what the phenomenon has done to your perceptual system. When you stop spinning, the world seems to continue, in reverse. When you look away from the green ring, you see a red ring in the same part of your visual field.
Also, in case you missed it, here’s my list of Editor’s Selections for this week for psychology and neuroscience from ResearchBlogging.org:
- Don’t rush penalty kicks! If you play the British game of football (“soccer” here in the colonies), hurrying could cost you a goal.
- What does it mean to be addicted to MDMA? Where I grew up, the typical Ecstasy users were young teenage girls who hung out with creepy older men. But were they addicts?
- Proximity makes the heart grow more trusting. A study suggests that testimony is more believable in person than on tape.
- Trauma Alters Brain Function… So What? Neuroskeptic wonders how many pretty pictures of brains the world really needs.