Did you see the spinning disks or the spinning snakes?


Spinning Discs Optical Illusions: An optical illusion is a mind-bending illustration of an object, design, or image that looks different when viewed from different angles. There are many types of optical illusions like physical, physiological and cognitive illusions. These optical illusions are also part of the field of psychoanalysis because they illuminate your personality traits. A normal human brain can look at things or images differently, forming a different perception from every angle. One such clever illustration is that of rotating snakes, an optical illusion developed by Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka in 2003.

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Visual optical illusion of spinning snakes

Courtesy of Akiyoshi Kitaoka

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The image above was developed by Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka in 2003 as an optical illusion named spinning snakes. This illusion is a type of peripheral drift illusion where the “snakes” consist of multiple bands of color that look like coiled snakes. Although the image is static, the snakes seem to move in circles. The speed of perceived movement depends on the frequency of microsaccadic eye movements (Alexander & Martinez-Conde, 2019). But in reality, the entire image is static.

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What is the Peripheral Drift Illusion?

Peripheral Drift Illusion (PDI) refers to an illusion of motion generated by the presentation of a jagged luminance network in the visual periphery. In 2003, Kitaoka Akiyoshi and Ashida created a variation of PDI that took the continuous jagged luminance change and inverted the intermediate grays. Kitaoka has created many variations of the PDI including the most popular “rotating snakes”.

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The illusion in the picture can be easily seen by staring at the side of it and then blinking as fast as you can. It was discovered that most observers can see the illusion easily when reading a text with the figure of the illusion at the periphery. The movement of such illusions is constantly perceived in the dark-light direction.

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Vision scientists have studied this image for a long time and shared their thoughts on this incredible optical illusion:

Hermann von Helmholtz, the famous 19th century physician and scientist, said “It is precisely the cases which do not conform to reality which are particularly instructive for discovering the laws of the processes by which normal perception arises..”

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Backus and Ipek Oruc (teachers), became fascinated with the illusion of rotating snakes. The duo conducted a series of experiments that culminated in an article published in the Journal of Vision, which explains how fundamental aspects of visual perception give rise to abnormal motion perception.

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The Journal said “The first thing to notice about Rotating Snakes is that the movement stops if you only look at part of the image. On the other hand, it continues if you keep looking around. Eye movements are therefore important. However, the illusory movement is not actually caused by the movement of the image on your retina. Instead, what matters is that the image is in different positions on the retina from time to time. In fact, a briefly flashed image of Rotating Snakes seems to be spinning like crazy, even if you don’t have time to move your eye across the image..”

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He further adds that “Note that any disk given in the image always spins in the same direction. Kitaoka, who created this version of the illusion, included clockwise and counterclockwise rotating discs, but if you pay attention you’ll notice that each disc of the image is faithful to its own direction of rotation. The illusory movement is always in the same direction as this progression of colors: black, blue, white, yellow.”

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Optical illusions always provide fascinating insight into how our brains work. Specific combinations of colors, light, and patterns can trick our brain into visually perceiving something that doesn’t exist. So tell us, did you spot the spinning snakes in this optical illusion?

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