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How small changes to one eye's retinal image can transform the perceived shape of a very familiar object

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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2024 Apr 23;121(17):e2400086121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2400086121. Epub 2024 Apr 15.


Vision can provide useful cues about the geometric properties of an object, like its size, distance, pose, and shape. But how the brain merges these properties into a complete sensory representation of a three-dimensional object is poorly understood. To address this gap, we investigated a visual illusion in which humans misperceive the shape of an object due to a small change in one eye’s retinal image. We first show that this illusion affects percepts of a highly familiar object under completely natural viewing conditions. Specifically, people perceived their own rectangular mobile phone to have a trapezoidal shape. We then investigate the perceptual underpinnings of this illusion by asking people to report both the perceived shape and pose of controlled stimuli. Our results suggest that the shape illusion results from distorted cues to object pose. In addition to yielding insights into object perception, this work informs our understanding of how the brain combines information from multiple visual cues in natural settings. The shape illusion can occur when people wear everyday prescription spectacles; thus, these findings also provide insight into the cue combination challenges that some spectacle wearers experience on a regular basis.

PMID:38621132 | DOI:10.1073/pnas.2400086121

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