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How Do Optical Illusions Work?

Posted on June 11, 2015



Optical illusions are images that we perceive differently than they actually are. They can be fascinating, intriguing and at times very mind-boggling. Interestingly enough, the word ‘illusion’ comes from the Latin word illudere, which means ‘to mock’. By now you’ve probably seen The Dress that went viral back in February. Was the dress black and blue or white and gold? It sparked quite the debate.

Optical illusions can trick our brains by using color, light and patterns. There are many different types of illusions, such as ambiguous illusions (e.g. Rubin’s vase) and distorting illusions. In this distorting illusion, the lines may look like different lengths, but they’re actually all the same size. The picture above looks like it’s moving, but of course it’s not.

How do optical illusions work?

When talking about our eyes, we first need to understand the connection our eyes have with our brains. Our eyes use more brain power than any other part of the body (approximately 65%). That’s a lot! Our eyes take in information from the outside world before it is then processed by the brain. The way we perceive optical illusions has more to do with how our brains assemble visual information and less to do with our actual eyes. The processing of visual information only takes about one-tenth of a second. Even though our brains are capable of processing millions of bits of information at once, optical illusions still manage to stump it. Our eyes tend to glance over things while our brains jump to conclusions based on objects we are familiar with, sort of like a shortcut. It tries to interpret and make sense of what we’re looking at. Optical illusions are proof that you don’t always see what you think you see!

What are your favorite optical illusions?

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