If You Think You Can't Be Fooled By These Images, Look Closer

These pictures demonstrate some of the mysteries of the brain.

You've probably seen this before.

The description is only sort-of true. What you see above is called a hybrid image: a combination of two different images superimposed upon each other. The image will change according to the distance you view it from...or according to your relative near or far-sightedness. 

These images were created by scientists at MIT.

MIT/Aude Oliva
MIT/Aude Oliva

This was created by Dr. Aude Oliva for the 2007 issue of New Scientist. It has since appeared all over the internet. Dr. Oliva was kind enough to grant us permission to use this and the other images you see herein.

Are these women happy or sad? Are you sure?

MIT/Aude Oliva
MIT/Aude Oliva

Move away from your computer or phone screen and look at their facial expressions again.

And what kind of big cat do you see here?

MIT/Aude Oliva
MIT/Aude Oliva

The first two on the left are a bit obvious, but the alignment of the two images on the right produces a more profound illusion.

The researchers on the MIT website discuss this:


Together, the above images demonstrate the importance of alignment when constructing hybrids. All three will be perceived as a tiger up close and a cheetah from far away. However, only in the image on the right does the ghost of either image disappear upon perceptual focus of the other. The differences among the three images is the degree to which the contours and shadows are aligned. The disalignment of the two images toward the left may produce an interesting effect, but only the image on the right can truly fool our perception. It is the benefit of alignment that lends itself to the assimilation of the two images' features.


This bicycle looks like it's just casting shadows, but look again.

MIT/Aude Oliva
MIT/Aude Oliva

Images that are very similar in outline make for much better hybrids. In this case, what seems to be shadow of the bicycle shifts into a street motorcycle when viewed from a distance.

This is called "perceptual grouping." The website explains:


"At close perceptual range, the parts of the motorcycle appear to belong to the shadow of the bicycle. Once the viewer steps back from the image, what appears to be cast shadows from the bicycle will regroup to to form a motorcycle. This grouping allows a seamless transformation from one object to another entirely different object."


This one seems obvious, right?

MIT/Aude Oliva
MIT/Aude Oliva

But if you squint and lean back, what happens? You might be wondering how could this serve a practical purpose. Well, aside from scientific research on how the brain processes visual information, New Scientist magazine writes that


"On the practical side, some companies are interested in using them to conceal information from unintended observers - or to create printed advertising that morphs before your eyes."



Ok, last one: this one's really cool.

MIT/Aude Oliva
MIT/Aude Oliva

Up close, this seems like it is very obviously a leopard: we may see the outline of the elephant, but we think there's no way we could be fooled by this.

From a distance, however, the leopard's spots become part of the shadow beneath the elephant. It really is just a matter of distance and perception. At a certain point, we cannot will ourselves to see the leopard anymore.

So. There you have it. Proof that things can look differently if you just take a step back.

There are more really awesome examples and explanations of these at the MIT website, so please go take a look.

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