This Optical Illusion Will Silence Your Vision

This Optical Illusion Will Silence Your Vision

Think your eyes have no trouble detecting when an object changes colour, size, or shape? This new illusion crafted by Harvard’s Jordan W. Suchow and George A. Alvarez might just prove you wrong.

Focus your eyes on the white dot in the centre of the video above. While the dots arranged in each image remain static, their various transitions are quite obvious. When the images begin to rotate, however, those dots suddenly don’t seem to be changing quite as fast, if at all. They are still making the same transitions they were before the motion began; you just aren’t seeing it.

Harvard Department of Psychology graduate student Jordan Suchow and professor George Alvarez created these optical illusions to demonstrate how closely motion and object appearance are tied together in our vision.

This motion-induced failure to perceive changes in objects is known as silencing. Some people’s vision will simply register the object’s last perceived state before movement and lock it in place – an orange dot will remain orange in their vision, even though it has since transitioned to red or yellow. They call this freezing.

In another account of silencing, known as implicit updating, the viewer always sees the current state of the object, but remains unaware of the ongoing transition.

Why does this happen?

According to the paper Suchow and Alvarez published recently on the topic (you can read that here), our visual system must register an object’s state in order to detect changes in a moving object. If one presumes the tools needed to pull this off are local – a fixed spot on the retina to a fixed position in an image – a fast moving image might not register long enough in one spot in order for the eye to detect anything other than general movement.

The illusion serves as a lovely reminder that we can’t always trust our vision. Just because it’s right in front of our eyes doesn’t mean we’re seeing it.

Motion Silences Awareness of Visual Change [Current Biology]


  • AAHHHH!!1! I saw it the first time and nothing changed and the second time it was moving, changing shape,colour and objects.

  • One, it’s broken in Explorer.

    Then I loaded it in Firefox and I just see dots dancing around. I read the text three times and still can’t work out what you’re going on about.

    This article is an epic fail.

  • I remember learning about this briefly (well not this exactly but a related topic about eyes registering the picture in motion) when I took up a neuroscience subject for the heck of it. So many crazy ways to screw with your brain.

    For those of you who don’t understand the instructions – stare at the middle dot but focus your attention on the dots/shapes/whatever that are scattered around the sides. When nothing is moving you’ll notice that the objects are transitioning between one size/shape/colour to another. When the whole thing starts to rotate though, you should notice that you don’t see anything changing anymore (when in fact, they still are). Also helps to have it in full screen.

  • Yeah I don’t know how this is suppose to work becuase at I cannot look at a single thing due to peripheral vision. I could see everything rotating and changing colour and the shapes changing. Or was I suppose to see all of that and I missed something.

    Also I don’t know how people can only look at one thing and one thing alone with out keep their peripheral vision on what’s around them. That boggles my mind :S

  • The whole point is that by focusing on the white dot, the other dots/shapes are relegated to your peripheral vision. The effect you are supposed to observe is a diminished capacity to detect the changes in the shapes while they are also translating (the ‘circle’ rotates), compared to when the shapes are stationary. If you are correctly focusing on the white dot, you should notice the changing pattern of shapes quite readily, but when the whole bunch starts moving, these changes appear to become either very slow or they appear to stop altogether.

    I did notice, however, that once I knew what to expect, the effect was diminished.

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