Optical Illusions in Everyday Life

Optical illusions are perceived as figures or images that are studying for a short amount of time in some science or art classes, where they seem relevant only for a day or two. Despite this thought, optical illusions have been realized and recognized for centuries and new findings can come about from studying them even today. Although we typically do not recognize it, optical illusions come up in our everyday lives through the media, through art, etc. They are also continued to be used today to perform studies that can better help us understand the modern day world.

Psychologists centuries ago have discovered optical illusions. Although people typically perceive them as cool pictures or figures that fool our eyes, they actually represent something and can mean something deeper than a simple picture. This misconception is the true illusion that most people fail to see. Joseph Jastrow, Mario Ponzo, Edgar Rubin, Joseph Delboeuf, and many other psychologists discovered optical illusions that can be applied today.

Delboeuf Illusion discovered of relative size perception

The above image is the optical illusion that was discovered and studied by Joseph Delboeuf. Although this optical illusion did not receive as much attention and was not as large of a focus of study as optical illusions such as the Müller-Lyer illusion, it represents relative size perception and how our eyes can be fooled by how things are framed. In an article about Delboeuf’s illusion found at http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.loras.edu/stable/1423073, the illusion is analyzed and the findings that Delboeuf got from it are discussed. It is discussed how depending on how a circle is framed while placed to another circle of the same size, the eyes will perceive these iedntical circles as different sizes. This optical illusion can be performed in a number of ways, but the above image demonstrates the most commonly thought of example of his illusion.

To demonstrate how this optical illusion is not just a simple figure that fools your eyes for a moment, five studies were conducted by a professor from Cornell University and Georgia Institute of Technology. Four of the studies were conducted on students of Georgia Institute of Technology, while one was performed on members of a college reunion in upstate New York in hopes to expand the demographics of the participants. All five of these studies can be summarized in more detail at http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/R-D/The-Delboeuf-illusion-Why-expanding-dinner-plates-are-expanding-our-waistlines. However, in short, the purpose of the study was to use the illusion in order to see if it is related to dinner plates and serving size. Although the same size serving can be given on a large and small plate, it was proven through these studies that when people are gathering servings of food on a larger dinner plate, they use the proportions and naturally give a larger serving size. This means that dinner served on smaller plates are likely to be correct serving sizes and less food than the large plates,even when there is room for more food on the small plates.

Jastrow Illusion

The above illusion is called the Jastrow illusion found by psychologist, Joseph Jastrow. In this illusion, two figures are placed next to each other that resemble segments of train tracks. The two figures are identical in size, however, because of how the figures are shaped and placed, they bottom figure appears to be shorter. Because the larger curve of the lower figure is placed right against the shorter curve of the upper segment, the lower figure looks much longer. The brain lacks the ability to compare both figures as wholes, it focuses on the two curves of each segment running closest together.

Duck-Rabbit illusion by Joseph Jastrow

Joseph Jastrow also studied the figure to the left. Depending on perspective, the image can be seen as a duck with its long beak to the left, or a rabbit with its ears to the left and nose to the right. This image became important and famous as people were entertained by seeing both animals in one photo.

After this illusion gained popularity, it began being used in a children’s book. This children’s book helped Jastrow argue that illusions are not exclusively a result of stimulus revealed to the brain, but that what we see or ‘illusions’ can be affected by mental activity. Studies were conducted on children asking what they saw in this figure at different times in the year. It was found that when children were asked what they saw around Easter time, it is far more likely that they will respond saying the image is a bunny. Moreover, if children are asked what they see in the image around October or a different fall month, they are likely to see a duck.

Mario Ponzo also used an optical illusion in order to study how the brain works in processing stimulus. However, instead of using mental activity or placement of figures to determine how humans perceive size, Ponzo focused on a figures background and how it affects the perception of size. Ponzo’s illusion is set up as an image resembling railroad tracks and is shown below. It depicts two lines of the same size, but because of the other lines in the background, they appear to be of differing sizes.

Modern day studies have sprung off of this illusion, one is found at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1421393. This study specifically focuses on how this illusion is used and relevant in real life. It discusses gymnasiums and how the lines in front of people of the same size can appear to be different based on perspective and the background of focal points.

Ponzo Illusion demonstrating size perception in accordance to background

The next illusion that will be focused on is an illusion by Edgar Rubin. This illusion also focuses on how background can affect the perception of something, however, it no longer is focused on size, it is focused on determining the overall image. Similar to the Jastrow Duck-Rabbit, two different images can be perceived in one figure, however, it is now using two separate portions of the photo. The figure is shown below.

Edgar Rubin demonstration of the figure-ground concept

This figure can be explained more in debt at http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Rubin_vase. However, to summarize, it uses demonstrates the concept of figure-ground. The figure is what we see in the image, and the ground is the background. If you see the white vase, then the black around it is the ground. However, if you shift your focus and the two black faces looking at each other are the figure, then the white background becomes the ground. Neither focus is incorrect, however, it is interesting that you cannot focus on both figures at the exact same time, even when knowing that they are both present. This illusion is continued to be used today. Gestalt psychologists focus on it in order to better understand how humans see the whole of things and focus on the entire picture of things, rather than instantly breaking down the different portions of images or things.

Although only a few examples of optical illusions were discussed and identified as to how they are still relevant in society, optical illusions of all sorts and forms fool humans’ eyes for a purpose. Scientists and psychologists use these concepts in order to study how things as simple as food portions can be affected by our perception of sight. Artists also use optical illusions constantly inside their art. Depth, size, and several topics of optical illusions are morphed in art to make a 2D image seem like something completely different.

Artists from the 1800s and still today have specifically focused on optical illusions in order to make their art unique and stimulating to the human brain. Early artists such as M. C. Escher and Charles Allan Gilbert and modern day artists such as Julian Beever and Oleg I. Shuplyak and many more all utilize the concepts and scientifically studied uses of optical illusions within their art. Today, specifically Julian Beever, has become known world wide for his use of depth cues within his sidewalk chalk art that fools humans’ eyes constantly.

Julian Beever’s “Explosion in Paris” created in Montparnasse, Paris

Julian Beever is an artist that is sometimes referred to as the ‘Pavement Picasso”. Julian Beever focuses his time and talent on creating art on sidewalks that through a camera lens of some sort from a certain angle create a 3D piece of art. Although they cannot be seen from the naked eye, as soon as viewed through a screen, his artwork does not fail to fool a person. He uses dept cues and shading in order to make his artwork come to life, as shown in the image above. More information about him and more examples of his artwork can be found at his website, http://www.julianbeever.net. Many of you have probably seen examples of his art work at some point, as it has become extremely famous. Although Julian Beever focuses his artwork on the sidewalk, most other optical illusion artists use paintings or drawings on paper to fool the human eye. One example is Rob Gansalves.

Rob Gansalves creates paintings that can can be interpreted as two separate things. At first, when only looked at from one side, the painting appears to be one thing, but when the view is shifted, another thing appears and the painting becomes something different entirely. He has countless paintings that all use the concept of figure ground, but one in specific is demonstrated below.

Optical Illusion Painting using Figure Ground concept by Rob Gonsalves

In this particular piece of art and the majority of his other pieces of art, Rob Gonsalves focuses on using the concept of figure ground, which was discovered by Edgar Ruben with the vase and faces image. When the image above is looked at from the top of the painting, it first appears that there is a house with a road covered in fall leaves with children riding their bikes on it. However, if only looking at the bottom it appears to be a road with bicyclists on it, with fall trees hovering above. It is easy to focus on one portion of the painting at a time, but when looking at it as a whole, it is impossible to determine the point exactly where one portion of the painting stops and the other begins. Art work like the painting above and the sidewalk chalk are shown everyday, people just ignore the fact that it truly is optical illusions that we are constantly seeing and being fooled by.

Optical illusions are relevant to everyone’s life far more than it may seem and studying and understanding how illusions work and how our brains process images in order to perceive things in a certain way is important in order to better and more thoroughly understand the world. It should be paid attention, especially because it is often right in front of our eyes, even if it is not perceived to be.