Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday Fun: It's all an illusion

As our eyes glance over the world around us we are able to quickly grasp a 3-D image of our environment. But can we always trust what we see? Just as we have mental shortcuts, we also have visual shortcuts that help us quickly take in the world around us. Sometimes though, those shortcuts can lead us astray. And when they do, its entertaining. So for today's Friday Fun, I thought I'd share a few of the more famous visual illusions that I learned about in my Sensation and Perception class. Try them for yourselves and see if you fall prey to your visual system!

Young Girl-Old Woman
Do you see an old woman or a young lady? 
Can you switch back and forth between them? 
Hint - the young woman's nose is the old woman's eye. The young woman's jaw is the old woman's nose.

Kanizsa Triangle
The Kanizsa triangle is the white triangle you see that isn't really there. It even appears brighter than the background.

Ponzo Illusion
 Are the yellow lines in this image the same size? 
The perspective added by the railroad lines makes the line in the front appear shorter.

Rubin Vase
 Do you see a vase or a pair of faces? 
Typically, we quickly establish which objects in a picture are the "figure" and which are the "ground" (or background), but in this image, the background and foreground are equally strong, making it difficult for our brains to tell which to focus on.

Hermann's Grid
 Do you see grey blobs at the intersections of the white lines? 
This is not just a trick of your monitor. Even on paper, you'll see those grey blobs. If you focus on one intersection though, you should be able to tell its white.

 Which soldier is the tallest? 
Answer: They're all the same size. Even knowing this, I can't believe it. 

Zollner Illusion
Are the long lines parallel? 
 They are, but the short lines are at an angle which makes it appear that one end of the longer line is closer to the viewer, distorting our perception.

What I love about these illusions is that knowing about them doesn't make the illusion go away. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I do!

Happy Friday!


  1. Illusions are always great fun, I'm a particular fan of after-image illusions ... though they're more "visual" than "cognitive". :)

    I've been following the blog for a while now, and I'd like to ask all you guys a question.

    According to the recent research in positive psychology, it's better for your well-being if you see your work as a calling rather than a career or a job (
    Now, as I consider an academic future in social psychology, I have found it hard to see it as a calling. I can only understand social psychology as basic science, amazingly interesting, but not directly giving back to society.

    So, what I'd like to ask is how you, as social psychologists, see your field, your work. If you can see it as a calling, specifically how is it important (I'm looking for something more than "I'm contributing to science or psychology"). Are there any direct applications of social psychology that makes clear its fundamental role to society?

    I don't know if I made myself clear, I think what I want to know is how you would respond if someone asked you the importance of your field or how it is making the world a better place.

    Love the blog. Thanks, Kleber.

    1. Hi Keber,

      I'm so glad you are enjoying PYM! I'm happy to give you my take on how I see social psychology making the world a better place. This is, of course, just my own personal experience. Other people in my field might have a different answer to this important question.

      I have a lot to say on this topic, but I will try to be concise. First, I definitely see what I do as a calling more than a job. I think of a job as something you do to make money, and money has definitely never been the incentive behind my decision to pursue a career in academia. I got into this field because I was interested in people and how to make their lives better. There are two main aspects to the academic life: research and teaching. I think both play an important role in helping me feel like I’m making a difference in the world. In terms of research, I chose to focus on what helps people maintain healthy romantic relationships. Part of the reason I chose this focus is because I have always been interested in relationships, and I noticed that so much of the advice given in popular magazines and self-help books is just someone’s opinion. I wanted to know what advice actually worked, and so I pursued a career where I could use science to try to find the answers to help people succeed in their relationships. Granted, it can be a slow process from research to dissemination, but happily I have seen more than a few of my colleagues have their research findings written up in popular magazines and newspapers. Social psychologists have also written their own books disseminating decades of research on important topics, and many of these books have gained popularity within the general public.

      In terms of teaching, when I was taking social psychology classes as an undergrad I found the subject not only fascinating but helpful. I felt like what I learned in my classes actually made me a better person. I had a better understanding of the many ways my social world influenced my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, and that understanding helped me to be more patient and thoughtful in my interactions with others. I wanted to be part of that by teaching psychology to others. That is a main reason I wanted to be part of this blog – I wanted everyone to have a chance to learn about and utilize psychology the way that I did.

      So in short, I feel like both my research and my teaching help me make the world a better place, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only social psychologist who feels that way. Although many of us love uncovering mysteries and furthering science, we ultimately hope that the findings we discover will trickle down into common knowledge and positively influence society through teaching, media and public policy. We don’t want to just enjoy our findings in the private of our offices, we want everyone to benefit from the knowledge that we gain.

      I hope this helps answer your question, and you are welcome to email me or follow up to my reply if you have more thoughts on the topic!

      Thanks for reading,