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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Illusions That Won't Go Away
5 September 2001 7:00 pm
Stare at some sights long enough, and you'll continue to see an afterimage even after you've looked away. Now vision scientists report that the brain can see afterimages of things that weren't even there in the first place, but were created by optical illusions. The cerebral cortex is responsible for the trick.
Afterimages come in two basic types: those formed on the eye's retina and those conjured up in the brain. For example, a bright light can bleach pigments in the retina and cause the retina's neurons to adapt; these effects linger after the light disappears, creating an afterimage. But most other aftereffects, such as continuing to hear a sound when it has ceased or seeing color-based patterns after looking away, are formed in the brain's cerebral cortex.
Now cognitive scientist Shinsuke Shimojo and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena have discovered that the cerebral cortex can create afterimages even of illusory surfaces. They worked with a well-known effect called perceptual color spreading, or filling in (see figure). If you stare at the illustration long enough, you will start to see a box between the four circles with wedges cut out of them (researchers call them pacmen for their resemblance to the video game heroes).
Shimojo and his colleagues noticed that if you shift your gaze to the blank area at right, you continue to see the box. Illusions, they found, can create afterimages. Then they fiddled with the pacmen to find out whether the newfound perception relies more on the retina-based afterimages created by the pacmen or on a cortex-based process of filling in. The cortex won, they report in the 31 August issue of Science.
The demonstration that illusions can create afterimages is "cute," says vision scientist Mary Hayhoe of the University of Rochester in New York state. "No matter how much we study perception we still find it puzzling when we see something that isn't there," Hayhoe says.