See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 5

These 5 Illusions Turn Ordinary Humans into Superheroes

Superpower your imagination

Italian photographer Giulia Pex has a series of Father's Day–inspired images entitled Dad, you are my favourite superhero that mixes drawing, illustration and photography to showcase her father's superpowers as she sees them. Artists learn that a line in a drawing or painting is often visual shorthand for the contour of an object, which we perceive using lateral inhibition.

In addition, neurons in the first stages of visual processing cannot distinguish between a solid form and an empty frame. As a result, the eye readily accepts line drawings despite the fact that they offer only the edges of a form. The extra effort required to interpret the image may actually make line drawings more compelling to our visual systems, holding our attention for a longer time. Here Pex tricks our line-finding neurons by drawing in a cape with just enough detail to make us see her dad's superhero status.


This article was originally published with the title "Out of This World."

Further Reading

Asphalt Renaissance: The Pavement Art and 3-D Illusions of Kurt Wenner. Kurt Wenner. Sterling Signature (Sterling Publishing), 2011.

Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human. Grant Morrison. Spiegel & Grau (Random House), 2011.

Adaptive Neural Coding in Frontal and Parietal Cortex. John Duncan and Earl K. Miller in Principles of Frontal Lobe Function. Second edition. Edited by Donald T. Stuss and Robert T. Knight. Oxford University Press, 2013.

The Importance of Mixed Selectivity in Complex Cognitive Tasks. M. Rigotti et al. in Nature, Vol. 497, pages 585–590; May 30, 2013.

Bâtiment. Leandro Erlich. Image available on the artist's Argentine Web site:

Dad, you are my favourite superhero. Online portfolio by Giulia Pex:

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