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Psychology in Maastricht

What do you see?

Do you see a duck or a rabbit in this illustration? I can assure you that they’re both there, in this one picture. Try to find them both! Once you've mastered that, you’ll notice that you cannot see them concurrently, i.e. at the same time. However, you can alternate back and forth between seeing a rabbit in the picture, or a duck. You also might have noticed that zooming in on certain regions or contours in the illustration (nearly) always leads to seeing the illustration in a specific way, i.e., in this case as the duck or as the rabbit. Whereas zooming in on other regions in the illustration may leads to activation of the other animal. And, as long as we focus on that specific region, we often perceive the picture in the same, static way

Reversible figures and our brain

In Psychology, we call illustrations like this 'Reversible figures'. Our brain is constantly trying to process perceptual information, i.e., in this case visual information, from the world surrounding us. A picture like the duck-rabbit illustration consists of a tremendous number of elements, such as the many different (fine) lines, colours, regions and contours. Look at all the separate elements of the duck-rabbit illustration.

Imagine that you can only see these elements in the world surrounding you, and that you can't combine these elements into seeing for instance a duck. Then the world would be really complex. Optimally, our brain integrates these elements and transforms these into a coherent picture, that makes (more) sense to us. So that we know it is a duck or a rabbit. Imagine what a complex system that is! Millions of neurons in our brain need to systematically work together to process an illustration like the duck/rabbit one. Because the brain is working so hard to give meaning to a bunch of dots, lines, colours etc., it can also be blind to alternative interpretations of all the separate elements. That is, once the brain decides that the elements in the illustration 'belong' to a duck, it is difficult to see them as part of a rabbit.

At FPN, we explore these and other mysteries of the human brain.

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