Do you consider yourself fairly intelligent? Your mind is like a steel trap and nothing gets by you. It can be quite satisfying to take a challenge head-on and beat it. Optical illusions, though, can fool those with the highest IQs. Mostly because it doesn’t matter how smart you are, some illusions are created specifically to trick the brain.
Consider the Lord of the Rings films. Director Peter Jackson used forced perception in filming to make Elijah Wood, who took on the role of hobbit Frodo, appear much shorter than his co-star Ian McKellen, who played the towering wizard Gandalf. As Gandalf rode a cart into town, Frodo hopped up and sat next to him, except Wood was positioned several feet behind McKellen, so he appeared much shorter than McKellen.
In the real world, your brain can easily figure out the size, shape, color, and distance of objects. The camera, however, can play tricks on your brain that can be maddening. What we see as 3D objects out of 2D images can be tricky.
Think you can figure out the trick to optical illusions? Set your eyes on these brain-teasing images and gifs, and try to decipher each one before we tell you what’s up.
Click on ‘Start Slideshow‘ to examine your brain!
1. Blurry Ham
In early 2017, a user on reddit, a social news aggregation website, snapped a photo of some ham he bought at a deli. No big deal, right? Except when he posted it online, the internet went nuts. The light pink slices of ham, marbled with white striations of fat, appeared to be out of focus to some. Others swore the ham wasn’t shot out of focus — the ham was clear!
If you look closely, though, you can see the grain of the wood through the ham. So, clear ham, it was decided. Wait, what? More than 40,000 upvotes later, and people are still talking about this infamous ham. The user cleared everything up with a video, showing that the ham is indeed not blurry.
Why does the ham look out of focus? Keep reading to find out!
The ham is actually sliced so thinly, and then each slice is placed slightly askew on top of each other that it appears blurry. You can see the plastic tray underneath it clear as day because this is Coburger ham, the photographer explained. The wafer-thin ham is the latest in optical illusions that bend the internet’s collective users mind.
Did that one trick you? This next one may have you seeing things. Click “Next” to see what we mean!
2. Expanding Heart
In the Dr. Seuss story How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the titular villain of the tale tries so hard to ruin Christmas for Cindy Lou Who and all the residents of Whoville that fateful day. But when saw that no matter what he did, he couldn’t ruin Christmas for anyone in Whoville, why, he had a change of heart. In fact, according to the narrator, “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.”
Can hearts really expand? In this image, they certainly appear to! Take a look at the image here. Start at the center of it for a moment. Is it expanding? Pulsing? It should seem to get bigger and bigger the longer you stare at it.
We promise it isn’t a video — it’s a static image that appears to be moving. But how? Read on for the answer!
Repetitive patterns, like the parallel lines arranged here in this image, along with the mix of contrasts, trick your eyes and brain into believing the heart around the edges is filling into the white gaps. Your brain sees it growing and pulsating. In the second image, though it’s a checkboard background, has that same black and white contrast and fuzzy heart in the center. Stare long enough, and it grows three sizes, like the Grinch’s heart. Blink, and it’s back to the original size.
Once you’ve regained your focus, feast your eyes on these illusions that may have you doing a double-take! Click “Next” to see what we’re talking about!
3. An Awkward Hug
Once again, from reddit, the self-proclaimed front page of the internet, comes a photo that left viewers online wracking their brains. The image shows a man and woman sharing a warm embrace. From the top half, this much is clear. When your eyes sweep down to the legs, though, that’s where things seem to get tricky.
Did this couple meld into one? It appears as though the man is hugging the woman in a normal way, but how are her legs coming … through … his … body? Does one of them have backwards feet? What is going on?
More than 80,000 views of this image by redditors, and a few clever people pointed out what was going on. Keep reading to see what it is!
No, these people didn’t switch the bottom halves of their bodies. Look closely at the man’s shorts. They’re black and white shorts that perfectly line up with the woman’s legs to make it appear as though you’re seeing her white capris.
Another hug illusion is this image that shows a couple in their living room, but who’s giving the hug? At first glance, it appears that the man is leaning over to hug the woman, and he just happens to have a short neck, or a giant head and small body. Give it a few seconds though, and you’ll see the woman is simply leaning forward with her head to the right of the man’s head. It’s an easy illusion to see through, but a quick glance fools your brain for a second!
“That one was easy!” you say? Click “Next” for one that’s not quite so simple!
4. In the Wall
This next optical illusion has been around for a few years, but it’s still a head-scratcher for those who haven’t seen it before. Upon first glance, it seems that it’s just a regular, old brick wall with some large gaps. Your eye may catch the tiny grey bit in between a couple of the bricks. It looks a bit like a grey rock stuck there.
When this image was passed around in 2014, some people claimed to stare at it for several minutes and still were unsure of what they were supposed to see. Go ahead, look. What do you see?
Still just seeing a tiny grey rock? Keep reading to see what it really is!
Look closer and you might be able to see that it’s a cigar! The grey rock you thought you were seeing is the long ash of the cigar. The length of the cigar is positioned perfect to make it appear as one of the gaps in the wall. Once you’ve been able to separate the cigar from the wall, though, good luck seeing anything but the cigar now!
Before you click “Next” for this next optical illusion, be warned: Your brain is about to do an amazing David Blaine-worthy trick!
5. Colored Castle
Your brain is a powerful little computer that can help you immediately determine what you’re looking at based on shapes, size, shadows, light, and color. What happens, though, when designers and scientists exploit the areas of your brain through loopholes? Why, they can create images that make you see what they want you to see!
Take a look at this castle. Keep your eyes on the dot. Stare at it for about 15 seconds. You should notice that the colors start to sort of seep and the image of the castle may seem to fade away. Warning: The image of the castle is going to change. The blue and orange is removed to reveal the castle in full color. Lovely, isn’t it? Except the photo of this castle isn’t actually in color.
Did the colors fade away into a black and white image? Read on to find out why!
What’s happening is your eyes sort of become accustomed to the colors they’re taking in. In a way, your retinas become desensitized to the color. Your brain starts to ignore the reds, greens, and blues it’s interpreting. Then when the image switches over to the original photo, which is a black and white photo, your brain sort of fills in the missing colors on its own. This is known as “afterimage.” In a way, it’s like your eyes and brain get tired of the colors. It’s like the colors have lost their flavor. Then when all the colors are removed, your brain replaces the color.
The blue and black/white and gold dress phenomenon is a good example of how our brains interpret color, and that not every brain interprets it exactly the same way. The way each of us interpret color varies due to age, environment, and even gender. Scientific studies show that women are capable of seeing more variations of color than men, thanks to the color genes on the X chromosome, of which women have two.
Once you’ve recovered from that crazy stunt your brain pulled on you, click “Next” to see its next trick!
6. A Serene Lake?
Have you seen this photo before? It looks like this man is chilling against a tree on the bank of a lake. We can’t quite make out the entire scene that he’s gazing upon, but it seems like a serene view. He’s propped up against a large, old tree, with long, deep roots, and what seems to be the reflection of all the trees around him. Wait a second, though. If those trees are the reflection, why can’t we see the actual trees around him? The more you look at the photo, the less it makes sense.
When Neo in The Matrix sought the wisdom of The Oracle in the film, he sees a young boy manipulating a spoon, bending it this way and that. He kneels to inspect the spoon, seemingly looking for the answer to the trick, the card up the boy’s sleeve. “Do not try to bend the spoon,” the boy says. “That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.” “What truth?” Neo asks. “There is no spoon,” the young boy responds, and the music holds as Neo seems to toss this bit of wisdom around in his mind.
Look at the photo again. There is no lake.
How could there be no lake? Take a close look at the photo from a different perspective and keep reading!
What seemed to be a lake is actually the sky! And this young man isn’t propped up against a tree; he’s laying along the trunk of an old, downed tree. The thing about our brains is that they really don’t like visual gaps, and they fill in wherever they can. This is the reason we may end up at a conclusion that isn’t correct. Your brain is just filling in the missing information to help you make sense of the scene.
Not impressed yet? Okay, what would you say if we told you that your brain can make objects disappear? Click “Next” to see it happen!
7. Disappearing Dots
In the case of the disappearing dots, even Sherlock Holmes might’ve had some trouble. Even when you understand how the brain plays tricks on our vision, you can’t force your brain to see something it just cannot comprehend. Take a few moments to look at this image. How many dots do you see? Two? Three? The problem is it’s difficult to keep track of them when they keep moving!
Except these dots aren’t moving. This is a static image. Don’t believe us? Check. It’s not a gif we have here. And there’s actually 12 dots on this single image. Keep looking, maddening as it is.
Can you see all 12 dots at once? Keep reading to find out why!
It turns out that no one really knows why this illusion is fooling us. There are some solid theories, though. Similar to the “afterimage” effect, our brains may be adaptation to the constant stimuli, or the black dots. Perhaps our brains are simply filling in where needed to make the image make sense. Bottom line: You can’t see all 12 dots at once. You can see each one individually, and count each one at the intersections. However, your peripheral vision seems to make a liar out of your brain as the dot you just counted disappears. Why?
Some mysteries may always remain.
In the second image, if you stare at the blinking green dot in the center, you’ll notice as the square of blue crosses spin, the yellow dots start to fade out of existence. Blink and refocus and they’re back. Scientists explain this as “motion-induced blindness.” You’re not actually going blind. Your brain is just perceiving the dots as not there anymore because of sensory overload.
Sometimes a rug is just a rug, and sometimes it has a hidden object … click “Next” to see what we mean!
8. Phone on the Rug
We’re already beyond the point of fooling you that any of these images are anything but optical illusions, but let’s keep going, anyway. Take a look at this photo. See anything out of the ordinary? There’s supposed to be a phone in this picture, but we’re not so sure. Minutes later, and we were convinced this was a trick — there’s no phone there. Is there? Where!?
If you’re a whiz at those hidden object games — you know, the ones where you try to find a tiny spool of thread on a woefully messy desk that belongs to some old detective who is trying to unravel the mystery of the missing woman in the lost lagoon and he’s left you to just clean up his study, I guess — you may have already spotted the smartphone.
Do you see it yet? Neither did we. Keep reading and we’ll show you exactly where it is!
Once again, your brain is likely filling in where it sees patterns, even if the pattern is broken. By now, with the help of the second photo, you’ve spotted the phone. Now that you see it, like the cigar in the wall, it’s hard to unsee it. I mean, it doesn’t even match the carpet’s pattern! However unalike the phone case is to the actual pattern, our brains see similar colors and shapes, and it sort of fits in with the pattern, so as we sweep our eyes over the image, we just assume it’s part of the floral rug.
Frustrated yet? This next optical illusion inspired some viewers to study the biology of an animal to figure it out — click “Next” to see what we’re talking about!
9. Cat on Stairs
A few years ago, the internet’s inhabitants once again lost their collective mind over an optical illusion. The grainy black and white image shows a cat walking up the stairs — or down. No one could definitively make up his or her mind! Thousands of comments on 9Gag, a website devoted to sharing images of, well, everything, exploded on this post. Some people were convinced the cat was climbing stairs, while others were sure it was trotting down the set of stairs.
People’s arguments included the texture of the stairs, the origin of the light, and even the biology of the cat and how it would hold its tail for balance, and so on. The problem is that our brains decide for us the most plausible reality, and in this case, the cat going up or down stairs is totally plausible. So, which is the right answer?
Which way did your brain decide the cat was going: up or down? Read on to see the answer!
There is no definitive answer. For what it’s worth, the lip of the stairs that’s protruding out would be a safety hazard, says one construction expert, if one were to walk up stairs like that, which leads us to the conclusion that the cat is clearly walking down the stairs. Maybe.
Okay, technically that one didn’t have a definitive answer, but click “Next” for one that does!
10. Classic Illusions
It would be difficult to trace back to the world’s first optical illusion, but one of the oldest is the classic duck-rabbit image that was sketched in 1899. You may have also seen the 1915 illusion of two faces, or a vase, created by psychologist Edgar Rubin. Another is this “Old Woman-Young Woman” image. If you start at the top of the sketch and imagine the swirly bit is a feather of a hat, and the white plumage flows to the top and toward the right of the frame. The dark blot of ink below the top feather is hair, then below that is the jaw of a young woman with her head turned. The other dark smudged spots are her fur shawl or coat. Now look at it from a different perspective.
Can you see both images in this classic optical illusion? Keep reading for some clues to see it!
Imagine the young woman’s jaw as a large nose of an older woman who is looking down a bit, as if hunched over. Perhaps its easier to see in color. The light orange streak of color is a shawl over the old woman’s dark red hair. What was once the young woman’s ear, is the old woman’s eye. The choker necklace on the young woman is now the slightly parted lips of the older woman.
This optical illusion is an example of perceptual ambiguity. You cannot quite see both figures at the same time, but you should be able to flip back and forth from one to the other. As soon as you see the jawline of the young woman as a large nose, your brain starts to fill in the gaps so it makes sense to you, and suddenly you see the old woman.
Our complex brains help us see and interpret anything we cast our glance upon, and where it seems confusing, the mighty brain tries to fill in where anything is missing so it makes sense. And therein lies the truth of phrase “perception is reality.”