Have you ever seen an image that looked like it was moving? Or maybe a dress that you swore was one colour, but your friend tells you it’s a different colour? These aren’t practical jokes, they’re optical illusions. The human eye is incredibly perceptive, and can detect even the slightest change of colour or depth. This is what causes the trick, according to OCLI Vision. “Our eyes are constructed so that the two types of nerve cells―the cones and the rods―are distinctly placed on and around our retina. The cone cells work to detect colour, while the rod cells detect low-light contrasts.” These two come together to convert the light into signals, which are then sent to the brain. Ultimately it’s your brain’s perception of these signals that creates the so-called illusion.
Image courtesy of Simply Bio.
An important aspect of optical illusions to keep in mind is that they are created strategically to play a trick on you. The goal is to stop you in your tracks and allow your eyes to de-focus. This will let the distortion take full effect. The amount of light used is also a factor, as it will tire out your eyes allowing them to blur slightly. As your vision changes, so does your interpretation of that image. For example, two opposing colours will be placed next to each other in a pattern that appears to be dancing. In the image below, the flowers are drawn in a straight line but appear to be shaped as a diamond.
Illustration by: Akiyoshi Kitaoka
This example is great because it is simple yet affective. For added fun, try scrolling up and down quickly.
Another form of optical illusion relates to how your eyes focus at first glance. Many of these gimmicks rely on the viewer analyzing the image for a few seconds. It’s only later can they see what’s hiding beneath the surface. One popular example is known as “My Wife and My Mother-In-Law” by cartoonist William Ely Hill. Most people initially see the old lady with a long nose looking down, but take another look. You’ll start to see another figure, a smaller woman looking over her shoulder. The first woman’s nose acts as the second’s chin.
Illustration by: William Ely Hill
Some believe the person you see first has to do with your age, but in actuality it just depends on where your eyes land first (and what you subconsciously focus your eyes on). This trick is used in photography as well, as it is all about directing the viewers line of sight. Typically when a person first views a photo they start in the top left and draw a line diagonally towards the middle. That determines the first thing you see, and impression it will leave on you.
If you’re trying to figure out how an optical illusion works, our suggestion is to sit back and take a second to process. Soon enough your eyes will translate to your brain what you’re actually seeing, and make sense of the image. It will both give you peace of mind, and a sense of accomplishment.
If you’re looking at optical illusions on the computer, we suggest also wearing a pair of blue-light glasses. This will help with the eye strain, and light reflecting from the screen. To look at our collection of MEsquad Kids glasses, click here.