A Scientific Study Claims That Your Age Affects How You See This Famous Optical Illusion
If you’ve ever been stumped by an optical illusion, you’re part of an odd yet fascinating history dating back to the 5th century B.C. These images, created to distort perspective and trick our eyes, can range from entertaining to headache-inducing. While there is a ton of scientific evidence to explain how they work and what we see, one specific optical illusion may be viewed one of two ways depending on our age. (1)
The Fascinating History Of The Optical Illusion
The early Greek study of optical illusions included much philosophical debate. The way that Greeks saw temple rooftops, for example, sparked an in-depth look at how humans perceive things. The roofs, built on a slant, appeared curved to observers. Centuries later, Plato concluded that our minds and eyes cooperate to understand our world.
Although these Greek philosophers were on to something, advanced understanding of science helped researchers make more sense of the optical illusion. For example, two 19th-century psychologists applied scientific research to the phenomena to better understand how people see these images. Johannes Mueller and J.J. Oppel spent a majority of their lives analyzing, testing, and researching theories as to how optical illusions work.
Throughout the centuries, four basic types of illusions were identified. These categories–paradox illusions, distorting illusions, fiction illusions, and ambiguous illusions–all cause the viewer to see the image in a different way. One of the most famous of these images is an ambiguous illusion, the subject of a 2018 scientific study. It appears the age of the viewer changes the way they see it. (1)
An Ambiguous Illusion: “My Wife And My Mother-In-Law”
With its first documentation seen in an 1888 postcard, “My Wife And My Mother-In-Law” is the most famous of ambiguous optical illusions. The image can be seen in two different ways: as an old woman looking forward, or a young woman with her head turned away. Edwin Boring, a psychologist that intensely studied the image in 1930, declared that it was the perfect example of an ambiguous optical illusion.
This type of illusion requires us to focus on only one part of the picture at a time to see the figures. The brain makes sense of the lines and details we focus on, creating the picture in our mind. Oddly enough, research now suggests our age changes what we see first when viewing the Boring Image. (2)
In a 2018 study, researchers showed how facial recognition is affected by our social group–often those we are closer to in age. The participants were shown the Boring Image for half a second and then asked what the age of the woman was. As a result, the younger people saw the younger woman first while older people saw the older woman. This research shows that our own subconscious age-bias affects how we see the world. (3)
Regardless of how you see the image, optical illusions are a fascinating look at human perception and how the mind works. It’s clear that looks can be deceiving, and everything is worth a second glance.
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