When Pretty Girls Turn Scary: The Flashed Face Distortion Effect

18 May

Jason Tangen, Sean Murphy and Matthew Thompson, all from the University of Queensland, Australia, were awarded 2nd place in this year’s Best Illusion Competition for their nifty perceptual illusion.

In the video below, focus on the central cross and see what happens when a series of faces are presented rapidly…

 Bizarrely, the fast-paced presentation causes each face to appear distorted  and, in some cases, grotesque. When the faces are viewed individually, however, they look normal.

In their research paper entitled Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces, Tangen and colleagues suggest that the distortion we experience is our brains’ response to the forcible encoding of consecutive faces. As the faces are eye-aligned, features are easier to compare and differences become amplified.  Thus, features which deviate from others in the set appear highly distorted (e.g. a large forehead looks remarkably large), where more deviation results in higher distortion.  

The authors propose that this novel method of image presentation may prove useful in investigating contrastive distortion effects and face adaptation.

Click here to see the 1st prize winner of the Best Illusion Competition 2012, “The Disappearing Hand Illusion“.

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