Because our brain sees rays that are not in this image

Because our brain sees rays that are not in this image

This optical illusion tricks the way the brain connects the points of the polygons, creating bright rays that actually aren't there

Optical Illusion Scintillating Starbust (photo: courtesy of Michael Karlovich, Recursia LLC) A series of concentric garlands and that's it: our brain is deceived and we will seem to see rays emerge and shine in the geometric design, which in reality are not there. It is a new optical illusion, called Scintillating starbust, presented by two researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Data Science Center at New York University. The two authors, Michael W. Karlovich and Pascal Wallish, showed the image to a group of volunteers and explained, with a careful geometric and psycho-cognitive analysis, which sensory mechanisms are at the basis of this new distortion of visual perception. . The research is published in i-Perception.

(photo: courtesy of Michael Karlovich, Recursia LLC)

A mathematical illusion

The geometric figure is formed by concentric circles which are themselves polygons intertwined with each other. The observer perceives lines of light coming from the center. To test the effect, the researchers involved 100 volunteers who were presented with numerous versions of the Scintillating starbust image, with variable shape, complexity and illumination. The goal was to study if and how some factors, such as the number of vertices of the polygons or the level of contrast, can alter the perception of the figure. In the rather complex study, the authors built the image in various steps by modifying the structure, brightness and color by applying previous mathematical and geometric models.

Behind the optical illusion

The volunteers perceived the optical illusion, or the presence of these rays, and the researchers conclude that it is a composite illusion, which combines different effects. Among these is the fact that our brain connects in a certain way the points belonging to the star-shaped polygons and these diagonal lines. The illusory rays are precisely the result of this connection made when we observe the intertwining of garlands and focus on some points. The phenomenon, the authors explain, resembles in some respects the visual illusion called lilac chaser (literally lilac hunter) also known as Pac man illusion. There are 12 lilac discs arranged in a circle, one of which disappears for a tenth of a second. Then the next disappears and the one after again and again, gradually clockwise. This produces various visual and light effects, such as the appearance of a green dot running along the circle.

More garlands and more sides for a greater effect

Returning to the optical illusion Scintillating starbust , several elements of the design enhance this illusory phenomenon. The decisive element is the number of garlands: the more they are, the stronger the effect. The particular structure of the polygons which are intertwined heptagons (composed of 7 sides) or better of which each side is cut (bisected) by the vertex of another polygon also contributes, forming a tetradecagon (polygon with 14 sides). Other elements that favor the illusion are the contrast (the darker figure on a light background) followed by the greater width of the braids of the wreath and finally the increase in the number of vertices. It is all these factors together that produce the final result.

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