2005 volume 34(1) pages 7 – 15
doi:10.1068/p5151

Cite as:
Howard I P, Hu G, Saxe R, Zacher J E, 2005, "Visual orientation in a mirror world tilted 90°" Perception 34(1) 7 – 15

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Visual orientation in a mirror world tilted 90°

Ian P Howard, Gang Hu, Rebecca Saxe, James E Zacher

Received 4 August 2003, in revised form 25 January 2004; published online 21 January 2005

Abstract. Previously, we showed that many supine observers in a furnished room tilted 90° perceive themselves and the room as upright. We called this the "levitation illusion" because the arms feel weightless when held out from the body. We now report that a familiar scene viewed by supine observers through a mirror at 45° appears vertical when, optically, it is horizontal and above the head. However, the body feels pitched upright only partially. This visual-righting effect, like the levitation illusion, is due to the polarity axis of the scene being accepted as vertical even in the presence of conflicting information from the gravity sense organs. In experiment 1 we tested the potency of objects containing either intrinsic polarity (due to familiar tops and bottoms) or extrinsic polarity (due to support relationships) to generate a visual-righting illusion. To almost all observers, a blank surface seen in the mirror appeared like a ceiling. A scene containing an object with intrinsic polarity, such as a chair or person, seen in the mirror appeared vertical to almost all observers. A scene containing a pair of objects with only extrinsic polarity, such as a ball on a shelf (but not a ball under a shelf), also appeared vertical to most observers. In experiment 2 we found that a polarised scene was more likely to produce a visual-righting illusion when it was arranged as a view through a window rather than as a picture inside a room.

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