How Do Our Eyes Fool Us?
The brain does a lot very quickly—usually very well. But in some situations, things get weird, and we can see how the mind takes shortcuts. The faces in this exhibit demonstrate a visual illusion called the Thatcher effect.
Things are not always as they seem. In this exhibit, you’ll experience how your eyes, and your mind, can sometimes play tricks on you. Do you think you’ll be able to guess what’s off about these faces before rotating them to reveal the answer?
Images from the Exhibit
Your mind is conditioned to process information in very specific ways. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t have a good mental map of what faces look like upside down. All the right pieces are there—two eyes, a mouth, a nose—so the mind assumes everything is OK.
Your mind only realizes something is off when the portraits are rotated right side up and you can compare them with how you are used to seeing faces. Known as the Thatcher effect, this phenomenon demonstrates how easy it is to miss important details, even when, in hindsight, they’re glaring.
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Further Readings: The Science behind the Exhibit
Just as your eyes can fool you, our common-sense intuitions can also lead us astray in surprising, but ultimately predictable, ways. The world is endlessly complex, and your mind often has to take shortcuts that can lead to imperfect judgments and decisions.
Behavioral scientists try to understand how the human mind works in order to give you the knowledge and tools to make wiser choices and live better.
- Dahl, C. D., Logothetis, N. K., Bülthoff, H. H., & Wallraven, C. (2010). The Thatcher illusion in humans and monkeys. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277(1696), 2973-2981.
- Risen, J. L. (2016). Believing what we do not believe: Acquiescence to superstitious beliefs and other powerful intuitions. Psychological Review, 123(2), 182.
- Strulov-Shlain, A. (2019). More than a Penny’s Worth: Left-Digit Bias and Firm Pricing. Chicago Booth Research Paper, (19–22).
- Bartels, D. M. (2006). Proportion dominance: The generality and variability of favoring relative savings over absolute savings. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 100(1), 76-95.
- Dietvorst, B. J., & Bharti, S. (2020). People reject algorithms in uncertain decision domains because they have diminishing sensitivity to forecasting error. Psychological Science, 31(10), 1302-1314.
- Chaudhry, S.J., Hand, M., & Kunreuther, H. (2021) Broad bracketing for low probability events, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 61(3), 211–244.
- Levine, E. E., Roberts, A. R., & Cohen, T. R. (2020). Difficult conversations: Navigating the tension between honesty and benevolence. Current Opinion in Psychology, 31, 38–43.
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