Big Picture: Motion illusions in static patterns

Image and words from research by Johannes Zanker (Royal Holloway University of London). Download PDF for poster.

This picture demonstrates how motion illusions can be experienced when looking at static images that have no physical motion content (which we would perceive in movies or natural scenes). A range of such illusions has been demonstrated in many different synthetic, carefully constructed patterns, such as the seemingly interleaved ring patterns in the border of the image, which can be perceived as spinning (initially designed by Fraser (1908) as tilt illusion, and elaborated and put into motion in many versions by Kitaoka: The conundrum of static patterns can be resolved by taking into account small involuntary eye movements (Zanker & Walker, 2004), which is also the basis of perceiving motion in various examples of Op art, such as Bridget Riley’s painting 'Fall' (Tate Gallery, London), a radial variant of which is shown in the centre of the image. A unifying computation framework has been suggested as an attempt to understand commonalities and differences of static motion illusions in terms of well-established mechanisms of biological motion processing in combination with eye movements that affect the spatio-temporal properties of the images entering the visual system of the observer (Zanker, 2004).


Fraser, J. (1908). A new visual illusion of direction. British Journal of Psychology, 2(3), 307.
Zanker, J.M. (2004). Looking at Op art from a computational viewpoint. Spatial Vision, 17(1–2), 75–94.
Zanker, J.M. & Walker, R. (2004). A new look at Op art: Towards a simple explanation of illusory motion. Naturwissenschaften, 91, 149–156.

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