Not just your imagination: The brain perceives optical illusions as real motion

Feb 02, 2009
It's not just your imagination: The brain perceives the concentric circles of the famous Rotating Snakes optical illusion as rotating, but the image is static. Credit: © A. Kitaoka 2003

Ever get a little motion sick from an illusion graphic designed to look like it's moving? A new study suggests that these illusions do more than trick the eye; they may also convince the brain that the graphic is actually moving.

Researchers in Japan, led by Akiyoshi Kitaoka of Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University, monitored brain activity as participants viewed the Rotating Snakes illusion, where concentric circles appear to rotate continuously (see below). The resulting article, Functional brain imaging of the Rotating Snakes illusion by fMRI, was recently published in the Association of Research in Vision and Ophthalmology's Journal of Vision as part of a collection of papers on neuroimaging in vision science.

Prior to the study, scientists believed illusions that simulated movement involved higher-level brain activity — the imagination. But this study found the illusion sparked brain activity generated by a bottom-up process in the visual cortex.

"This is the part of the brain that processes real physical movement," explained research team member Ichiro Kuriki, PhD (associate professor, Tohoku University). "The illusory motion percept is not just the observer's imagination."

The researchers compared levels of eye movements as participants watched the Rotating Snakes illusion. When participants moved their eyes while watching the illusion, the study reported higher activity in the motion-perception area of the brain.

Kuriki said the study has ramifications for makers of instrument panels for vehicles, aircraft and other forms of transportation. "Our findings could be important to the designers of such visual displays, as well as creators of multimedia content online or for film and television," he said.

A better understanding of motion perception can help designers avoid patterns that stimulate the motion-sensitive area in the cortex so users will not experience motion sickness or other discomfort.

Source: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology

Explore further: Study first to use brain scans to forecast early reading difficulties

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

In pursuit of unknown assassin bugs

17 minutes ago

Entomologist Christiane Weirauch is passionate about studying a group of bugs that have a formidable name: assassin bugs. A professor of entomology at the University of California, Riverside, she travels ...

Cutting electric vehicle energy use 51 percent

7 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the University of California, Riverside's Bourns College of Engineering have shown that a vehicle navigation tool they created can cut electric vehicle energy use up to 51 percent.

Seeking proof for the no-hair theorem

27 minutes ago

According to general relativity, a black hole has three measurable properties: mass, rotation (angular momentum), and charge. That's it. If you know those three things, you know all there is to know about ...

A tabletop motor using an entirely new driving principle

17 minutes ago

A tabletop motor using an entirely new driving principle is under development at the headquarters of C-Motive Technologies, a startup business that is commercializing technology from the College of Engineering ...

Image: Orion's first crew module complete

39 minutes ago

NASA's first completed Orion crew module sits atop its service module at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew and service module will be transferred ...

Recommended for you

Researchers urge psychologists to see institutional betrayal

8 hours ago

Clinical psychologists are being urged by two University of Oregon researchers to recognize the experiences of institutional betrayal so they can better treat their patients and respond in ways that help avoid or repair damaged ...

User comments : 0