Perception and Optical Illusions
Optical Illusions Created by Our Brains
In Optical Illusions:Sights for Sore Eyes, I pointed out that there is no universal classification system for optical illusions. I said I'd use three simple divisions described in "101 Optical Illusions" by Terry Jennings: those that work because of the way our eyes function, those that are successful because of our psychological makeup, and those that are a combination of both. That article describes some of the earliest known optical illusions and how they contributed to technologies that have changed the world we know. (Who would have guessed that without illusion, there would be no movies! HA!)
Next, I published a page about visual illusions, describing in not-so-technical terms how they work and offering many examples that were not seen on the intro article and won't be seen here.
This third article explores illusions that are based on the way our minds work. In Alex Grey's image The Cosmic Elf , seen here, viewers may see at least three faces, many more sets of eyes, a moth-like shape, or a floral image. This limited edition print and other unique illusion gifts by Alex Grey can be ordered online.) This image copyrighted by Alex Grey and used here in compliance with Mr. Grey's terms of permission and fair use.
Ready to "see" more?
Expections and Reality May Not Match Up
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of optical illusions that work simply because our brains key in to a specific element, and only upon closer inspection do we notice other elements. What we expect to see, in other words, is exactly what we do see, at least initially.
These illusions can be very simple or highly complex. Some are entertaining, while others function as tools to help scholars study psychology.
As you click on the thumbnails below, you might see some simple historic illusions. Several of them are quite famous, such as the rabbit/duck illustration or the faces and vases that key in to what the viewer expects. Soon we'll be seeing some surprisingly different examples.
Simple & Historic IllusionsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Psychology and Illusions
You've probably heard of a Rorschach ink blot test. Using cards containing images like this one, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach devised a method for using people's perceptions of shapes to determine character traits like their motivations, attitudes toward men and women, and approaches to dealing with adversity. Although his work was published in 1921, his work went largely unnoticed and psychologists developed other methods of interpreting patient answers.
Rorschach's methods may have been based on a popular game that dates back hundreds of years, but it was the first methodical attempt to measure mental health problems by examining a patient's perception of images. Nearly a hundred years later, Rorschach ink blot tests continue to be widely used as a personality assessment device.
Today, optical illusions may be added to a psychologist's toolbox. Although we normally think of mental illness as hampering an individual's performance, when it comes to optical illusions it appears schizophrenics outperform control groups on certain tasks! Dr. Steven Dakin of the UCL School of Opthamology, showed this image to diagnosed schizophrenics and to a control group:
Dakin then asked each group to identify which sphere from the outer ring exactly matched the central ring in color. As reported by Scientific American in 2005, the results were startling: 12 of the 15 schizophrenic patients outperformed 100% of the control group.
Since some people can perceive illusions while others are nearly immune to them, the theory is interesting, to say the least!
Take Your Best Guess
Which outer sphere is an exact color match for the small, inner one?
Read the Answer Below - (and a word from our sponsors!)
Most people select the option that's nearest the 10:00 position, but the correct answer is the sphere at the very bottom, in the 6:00 position.
Are you fascinated yet? Here are some optical illusion products to enliven your world every day.
Sport Your Own Eye Candy
Camouflage Art, Mosaics, & Marketing
We've seen how our perceptions of what is realistic combine with our peculiar psychology to challenge us to grasp multiple images in one. Camouflage artwork and mosaics have long used this principle to capture attention and hold it, which happens to be the same goal product marketers have for consumers. In recent years, companies have joined the fray to create compelling ad copy that encourages viewers to keep looking, studying, and memorizing details of their ads. Other camouflage art has been designed to create an illusion of invisibility, like military forces uses to disguise their troops and vehicles.
Bev Doolittle's artwork first captured my attention in 1996, when I purchased a print of The Sentinel as a gift for someone. In this piece, the warrior seems to be looking to the skies for guidance, and sees it, while his spirit protector is embodied in both the rainbow and the stones revealing his wolf spirit. Doolittle has become famous for her clever use of nature in her works. After purchasing the coffee table book shown below, I became a fan and collector of her prints, though they're increasingly difficult to find and getting more expensive all the time. (If you're interested in acquiring signed prints of her work, visit her gallery by clicking on her name. Prints I once purchased for a couple hundred dollars now sell for prices many times higher than I paid. Doolittle donates a portion of each sale to environmental causes.)
While Doolittle's nature-inspired art has established her as a force majeur in the art world, Chinese artist Liu Bolin's city-based themes promise to make his name gain as much recognition as his illusions. Dutch artist Desiree Palmen explores similar themes from elsewhere in the world. Cecilia Paredes hides the human body, too, but instead of incorporating city scenes like Palmen and Bolin, she turns bodies into 3D wallpaper for her images.
Other artists have dabbled with camouflage techniques while garnering fame for their non-camouflaged artwork. Abbott Thayer is known as the painter of angels, but illustrated that nature provides even the most brightly colored creatures an opportunity to blend in.
Let's briefly take a look at some of their works.
Camouflage - Nature's GiftsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Not Just a Messy Desk
Artist Istvan Orosz has recently captured my attention for his illusions works. This one might appear to be a mad scientist's work area, but from an oblique angle, it's a whimsical portrait of Jean de Dinteville. If you can't turn your monitor to see the image from a side view, don't worry - it's in the photo gallery below, along with a straightforward image of de Dintville for comparison.
Istvan Orosz Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tell us about a time you were surprised or delighted by an unexpected image! Did it make you laugh, smile, or shake your head in disbelief?
Pranks, Gags, and Humor
Camouflage techniques have been used in funny and not-so-funny gags. My first exposure to a prank of this type happened when a fellow student at Camelback High School included rock band logos and hidden images in sketches he drew for the 1983 yearbook. Although some parents were unhappy about his relatively harmless prank, Vermont residents may have more reason to feel anger over a similar prank that went undiscovered for at least four years.
As in many states, inmates perform certain duties on the state's behalf: road cleanup, license plate manufacture, and so on. In Vermont, inmates take part in ordering printed materials to be used by the state. Just this month (April, 2012), the Burlington Free Press reported that several years ago, an unidentified inmate tasked with ordering new decals for police cruisers altered the spots on the state seal's cow to include a pig - an unkind, slang reference to police officers. State officials say taxpayers are footing the bill to replace the decals at a cost of about $700. Read the story and see more about the logo by clicking on the photo above.
Sometimes artists claim credit for their gags, but others deny responsibility, fearing job loss or public ridicule. The Walt Disney Corporation, despite its enduring appeal for children's movies, has come under fire many times for pranks that range from innocent fun to highly questionable. For a complete list of Disney pranks, some of which have been verified and some which haven't, visit Snopes.com and judge for yourself. Some that are reported as untrue still seem quite clear to me. The site also reports on scenes in The Rescuers and Who Framed Roger Rabbit that may be too risky for publication on this page, as well as the original video cover of The Little Mermaid, which was removed from publication and reissued with a revised cover image.
Still more turn their creative visions into cartoons or products designed to highlight their illusion. Let's look at a couple of these lesser-known examples:
Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Beautiful real-life images of nature at its very best - camouflaged!
The greatest of the greats, the artists who made the world take a second glance, come together in this book.
Illusion in Marketing
Illusion and subconscious messages in marketing have been used since the 1920s. Some examples are almost unnoticeable, like the unobtrusive arrow in this FedEx logo, while some call a viewer's attention to the trickier elements.
Enjoy these examples of extra-influential marketing, and stay alert to discover more examples in your daily encounters with advertisements. All of these ads are copyrighted materials used under fair use guidelines. (Scroll through the thumbnails below to see full sized photos.)
Hidden Elements & Illusion in AdvertisingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Human psychology is affected by illusions, as we've seen in the marketing examples. Conversely, illusions may affect our understanding of psychology. As digital imagery and more elaborate manufacturing technologies come into play, the division between reality and apparent reality will become blurred further.