10 Cool Optical Illusions and How Each of Them Work

Optical illusions, more appropriately known as visual illusions, involve visual deception. Due to the arrangement of images, the effect of colors, the impact of the light source, or other variables, a wide range of misleading visual effects can be seen.

If you've ever struggled to see the hidden image in a single-image stereogram, you may have discovered that not everyone experiences visual illusions in the same way. For some illusions, some people simply are not able to see the effect.

Optical illusions can be fun and fascinating, but they can also tell us a great deal of information about how the brain and perceptual system function. There are countless optical illusions out there, but here is a sampling of some of the most fun and interesting.


The Hermann Grid Illusion

The Hermann Grid Illusion

Rob Patrick Robpatrick / Flickr CC

Sometimes we see things that aren't really there, and the Hermann Grid illusion is a great example of this. Notice how the dots at the center of each intersection seem to shift between white and gray? Like many optical illusions, different theories have been proposed to explain exactly why this happens.


The Spinning Dancer Illusion

The popular illusion made the rounds on blogs and websites a few years ago, supposedly as a test to determine if you are "left-brained or right-brained." In reality, the illusion occurs because our brains must attempt to construct space around the spinning figure.


The Ames Room Illusion

Ames Room

Mosso - http://www.flickr.com/photos/39325045@N00/355613728/

Would you be surprised to learn that the two people in the image at the left are actually the same size? Learn more about how this classic illusion works and how the effect has been put to use in special effects such as in the movie The Lord of the Rings.


The Ponzo Illusion

Wikimedia Commons

When you look off into the distance, objects seem closer together as they become further away. For example, the outside borders of a road or railroad appear to converge as they recede into the distance. The Ponzo illusion involves placing two lines over an illustration of a railroad track. Which line is longer? In reality, they are exactly the same length.


The Zollner Illusion

Zollner Illusion

Fibonacci / Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes the background of an image can interfere with how your brain interprets the image itself, as is the case with the Zollner illusion. This is one illusion that can actually make a viewer start to feel slightly queasy if you stare at it for too long!


The Kanizsa Triangle Illusion

Kanizsa Triangle

Wikimedia Commons

According to the Gestalt law of closure, we tend to see objects that are close together as a related group. In the case of the Kanizsa Triangle, we even see contour lines that don't exist and ignore gaps in order to form a cohesive image.


The Muller-Lyer Illusion

Muller-Lyer Illusion

Fibonacci / Wikimedia Commons

Here's a classic illusion that still manages to stump a lot of people. Which line is longer? Actually, both lines are the same length. Surprised? Find out about how the Muller-Lyer Illusion works.


The Moon Illusion

Moon Illusion

If you've ever spent any time gazing up at the night sky, then you've probably noticed the moon illusion, in which the moon looks bigger on the horizon than it does higher up in the sky. Why does this happen?

Many theories have been proposed, although there is no universally agreed-upon explanation. You can read about how the moon illusion works and some of the possible theories that have been suggested.


The Lilac Chaser Illusion

TotoBaggins / Wikimedia Commons

In the lilac chaser illusion, the viewer observes several different visual effects over the span of about 30 seconds. First described in 2005, the illusion is caused by a number of different factors including negative afterimages and what is known as Troxler fading. Check out the illusion yourself and learn more about how the lilac illusion works.


The Negative Photo Illusion

Negative Photo Illusion

geloo, modified by Kendra Cherry

Here is another fun example of negative afterimages that produce a startling result. In the negative photo illusion, your brain and visual system essentially take a negative image and turn it into a full-color photo. Check out the illusion to give it a try and learn more about how it works.

9 Sources
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