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

Vision researcher Pawan Sinha of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows us with this illusion that our brains have specialized mechanisms for determining gaze direction. In the normal photograph of Humphrey Bogart (left), the actor appears to be looking to his left, but in the photo negative (right) he appears to be looking in the opposite direction. Yet Bogart's face does not look backward; only the eyes are reversed. Why? The answer is that we have specialized modules in our brain that determine gaze direction by comparing the dark parts of the eyes (the irises and pupils) with the whites. When the face is negative, the whites and irises appear to swap position. Our knowledge that irises are light rather than dark in a negative does not change our perception of this illusion.

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