Friday, January 20, 2012

New Scientist TV - Friday Illusion: Stop a spinning object with your mind

Want to freeze an object using the power of your mind? Watch the spinning objects in this video and they will suddenly appear to stop moving. However, they never actually freeze and are constantly turning at a steady rate.
The illusion, created by researcher Max Dürsteler from University Hospital Zurich, uses a swaying background to trick our perception. When it rotates faster than the object in the foreground, and in the same direction, the object seems to slow down. But when the background moves in the opposite direction, the figure in the middle appears to speed up.
In the first two examples, the background is distinct from the image on top of it. But in a third clip, the rotating figure blends in with the background, making the illusion more pronounced. In a final example, where background and foreground are contrasting once again, the backdrop rotates at a constant rate while the central figure sways back and forth. With this role reversal, the illusion is lost.
While researchers are still investigating how this illusion works, Dürsteler suspects that our brain has a bias towards seeing objects as stationary. Motion is usually perceived in one of three states: either in or out of sync with its surroundings or stationary in relation to the observer

The brain trick won the Best Illusion of the Year contest in 2006.

Did you see the illusion in any, or all, of the examples in the video? Was it pronounced? Let us know in the comments section below.
If you enjoyed this effect, watch shifting lines create a phantom spin or see colours emerge from a spinning disc.

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