A New Kind of Visual Illusion Uncovers How Our Brains Connect the Dots

Summary: A newly designed optical illusion is helping researchers better understand visual processing and perception. The illusion creates a subjective reality in what we see, highlighting the constructive nature of perception.

Source: NYU

A new class of illusion, developed by a visual artist and a psychology researcher, underscores the highly constructive nature of visual perception.

The illusion, which the creators label “Scintillating Starburst,” evokes illusory rays that seem to shimmer or scintillate—like a starburst. Composed of several concentric star polygons, the images prompt viewers to see bright fleeting rays emanating from the center that are not actually there.

“The research illustrates how the brain ‘connects the dots’ to create a subjective reality in what we see, highlighting the constructive nature of perception,” explains Pascal Wallisch, a clinical associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and Center for Data Science and senior author of the paper, which appears in the journal i-Perception.

“Studying illusions can be helpful in understanding visual processing because they allow us to distinguish the mere sensation of physical object properties from the perceptual experience,” adds first author Michael Karlovich, founder and CEO of Recursia Studios, a multidisciplinary art and fashion production company.

The authors acknowledge that the visual effects of this illusion are superficially similar to a number of previously described effects of other, grid-based illusions. However, their Scintillating Starburst, unlike known visual illusions, evokes a number of newly discovered effects, among them that fleeting illusory lines diagonally connect the intersection points of the star polygons.

To better understand how we process this class of illusion, the researchers ran a series of experiments with more than 100 participants, who viewed 162 different versions of the Scintillating Starburst, which varied in shape, complexity, and brightness.

This stimulus is made up of several concentric pairs of scaled star polygons. Most observers perceive fleeting rays, beams, or lines emanating from the center that appear to be brighter than the background. Credit: Michael Karlovich, Recursia LLC

The research participants were then asked a series of questions about what they saw–for instance, “I do not see any bright lines, rays, or beams,” “I maybe see bright lines, rays, or beams, but they are barely noticeable,” and “I see bright lines, rays, or beams, but they are subtle and weak.”

The authors found that the confluence of several factors, including contrast, line width, and number of vertices, matters.

“In particular, a large number of prominent intersection points leads to stronger and more vivid rays, as there are more cues to indicate the implied lines,” observes Wallisch.

Thus, this research illustrates how the brain “connects the dots” to create one’s subjective reality, even on the perceptual level, highlighting the constructive nature of perception.

About this visual perception research news

Source: NYU
Contact: James Devitt – NYU
Image: The image is credited to Michael Karlovich, Recursia LLC

Original Research: Open access.
Scintillating Starbursts: Concentric Star Polygons Induce Illusory Ray Patterns” by Michael Karlovich and Pascal Wallisch. i-Perception


Abstract

Scintillating Starbursts: Concentric Star Polygons Induce Illusory Ray Patterns

Here, we introduce and explore Scintillating Starbursts, a stimulus type made up of concentric star polygons that induce illusory scintillating rays or beams.

We test experimentally which factors, such as contrast and number of vertices, modulate how observers experience this stimulus class.

We explain how the illusion arises from the interplay of known visual processes, specifically central versus peripheral vision, and interpret the phenomenology evoked by these patterns.

We discuss how Starbursts differ from similar and related visual illusions such as illusory contours, grid illusions such as the pincushion grid illusion as well as moiré patterns.

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