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See Inside The Science of Perception

The Eyes Have It [Preview]

Eye gaze is critically important to social primates such as humans. Maybe that is why illusions involving eyes are so compelling

The eyes are the window to the soul. That is why we ask people to look us in the eye and tell us the truth. Or why we get worried when someone gives us the evil eye or has a wandering eye. Our language is full of expressions that refer to where people are looking—particularly if they happen to be looking in our direction.

As social primates, humans are keenly interested in determining the direction of gaze of other humans. It is important for evaluating their intentions and critical for forming bonds and negotiating relationships. Lovers stare for long stretches into each other's eyes, and infants focus intently on the eyes of their parents. Even very young babies look at simple representations of faces for longer than they look at similar cartoonish faces in which the eyes and other features have been scrambled.

In this article, we investigate a series of illusions that take advantage of the way the brain processes eyes and gaze. It turns out that it is fairly easy to trick us into thinking that someone is looking somewhere else.

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