Why This 12-Dot Illusion Is Giving People Fits

By Carl Engelking | September 12, 2016 2:40 pm
ninio-extinction

(Credit: Jacques Ninio)

With one Facebook post, Japanese psychology professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka has sent the internet into fits.

Look at the image above, and try to see all 12 black dots at once. Good luck. Honest, we aren’t playing tricks on you. Your eyes are literally deceiving you.

Kitaoka posted this image on Sunday, which has since been shared over 10,000 times, and got a further viral boost when video game developer Will Kerslake shared the image on his Twitter page, and it quickly appeared on Reddit. Now, we’re all hopelessly chasing black dots.

The image is called “Ninio’s Extinction Illusion,” named after the French scientist Jacques Ninio, who specializes in visual perception at the National des Recherches Scientifiques in Paris. There are actually 12 black dots at the intersections of the gray lines, but most people can’t see them. As Ninio explains in the journal Perception:

“When the white disks in a scintillating grid are reduced in size, and outlined in black, they tend to disappear. One sees only a few of them at a time, in clusters, which move erratically on the page. Where they are not seen, the grey alleys seem to be continuous, generating grey crossings that are not actually present.”

Basically, your eyes are playing tricks on you. Grid illusions like Ninio’s, which is a variant of the Hermann grid, exploit something called lateral inhibition in the retina. When light stimulates a photoreceptor, the activity of its neighboring receptors is significantly reduced. This helps us perceive edges clearly, but it can also trick our brain. When you stare at a grid, for example, it causes these photoreceptor cells to misperceive the stimulus they receive.

Our visual system also isn’t very good at focusing on objects at the periphery of our center of vision. It’s easy to perceive a single word in a sentence, but the words at the top of the page or to the left and right of the page are blurry. As a result, our brain fills in the blanks at the periphery using contextual information.

As The Verge’s Rachel Becker writes:

“And with this regular pattern of gray lines on a white background, the brain guesses that there’ll just be more of the same, missing the intermittent black dots.”

Here are a few other illusions that work on the same, mind-bending principles. See the white or black spots flickering at the intersections in this image from Ninio’s study?

scintillation

Blurred Hermann grids produce, as found by Bergen (1985), a scintillation effect. (Credit: Perception

Here’s one last illusion. This one is called the McAnany-Levine extinction illusion (also via Kitaoka). Can you see 13 white dots?

13-images

McAnany-Levine’s extinction illusion.

Does your head hurt yet?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Xebico Merran

    Why yes, yes it does. (This also makes me wonder how close we’re getting to David Langford’s “Blit” stories….)

  • Susanmarie8

    I don’t have any problem seeing the dots. What does that mean?

  • Rasoio Bluculo

    I can see six dots in the Hermann Grid.

  • eleanor rigby

    i saw them all in all the illusions

    • iBro X

      All at once ?
      Or just one by one?

  • Indira Andreiya

    It looks like the dots keep running everywhere.
    😌

  • Overburdened_Planet

    There are actually 12 black dots at the intersections of the gray lines, but most people can’t see them.

    So what’s different about people who can see all 12 dots at once?

    I have excellent peripheral vision (was tested this week), so what else is a work?

  • Fahmida Ankhi

    I saw them all at once!

  • John DeFrank

    In the first illusion, I could see 15. To do this I focus into the image, as one would to see any hidden 3D picture. If you try this technique, the dots won’t appear to dance around.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

D-brief

Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+