Nemati F, 2009, "Size and direction of distortion in geometric-optical illusions: Conciliation between the Müller-Lyer and Titchener configurations" Perception 38(11) 1585 – 1600
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Size and direction of distortion in geometric-optical illusions: Conciliation between the Müller-Lyer and Titchener configurations
Received 24 April 2009, in revised form 25 August 2009; published online 16 November 2009
Abstract. Over the past few decades, different theories have been advanced to explain geometric-optical illusions based on various perceptual processes such as assimilation and/or contrast. Consistent with the contradictory effects of assimilation and contrast, Pressey's assimilation theory provided an explanation for the Müller-Lyer illusion, but failed to account for the Titchener (Ebbinghaus) illusion. A model that explains both Müller-Lyer and Titchener illusions according to a common underlying process may outline a unified explanation for a variety of geometric-optical illusions. In order to develop such a model, the concept of empty space is introduced as an area of the illusory figure that is not filled by line drawings. It was predicted that the magnitude of illusion would increase with the area of the empty space around the illusory figures. The effect of empty space on the magnitude of perceptual distortion was measured in Müller-Lyer figures, with outward arrowheads of different length. The results indicated an overestimation of the target stimulus in all of the figures. Nevertheless, consistent with the prediction of the present model, the horizontal line in the Müller-Lyer figure with the longest arrowheads appeared shorter than that with the shortest arrowheads, although the size contrast of these figures was the same. According to the analysis proposed in the present study, the area of empty space not only affects the magnitude of illusion but also serves as a contextual cue for the perceptual system to determine the direction of illusion (orientation). The functional relationships between the size contrast and empty space provide a common explanation for the Müller-Lyer,Titchener, and a variety of other geometric-optical illusions.
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