Ebbinghaus illusion

From New World Encyclopedia
The two orange circles are exactly the same size; however, the one on the left seems smaller.

The Ebbinghaus illusion (sometimes called the "Titchener illusion") is an optical illusion of relative size perception. In the best-known version of the illusion, two circles of identical size are placed near to each other and one is surrounded by large circles while the other is surrounded by small circles; the first central circle then appears smaller than the second central circle.

The Ebbinghaus illusion, as well as numerous other visual and perceptual illusions, provide a valuable way to investigate how the eye and brain process visual information. Equally, they are used by artists for visual effect, entertaining and satisfying the endless fascination human beings have with novelty and creativity.


The Ebbinghaus illusion is named for its discoverer, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850-1909). Ebbinghaus is perhaps most well known for his work in the field of memory, but he also made contributions to the area of visual perception. Ebbinghaus likely introduced this illusion in the 1890s, though he did not publish it in any specific publication.

After 1957, the illusion began to be attributed to another scientist, Edward Titchener, who had never expressed any authorship whatsoever. Because of this, the illusion is sometimes called the "Titchener illusion".[1]


The classic Ebbinghaus illusion consists of a circle surrounded in one image by smaller circles, and in another by larger circles. The viewer tends to perceive the circle surrounded by smaller circles as being larger than the circle in the other image, even though both are exactly the same size.


The difference in size perception is due to the surrounding visual cues (larger or smaller surrounding circles), and the way the brain processes these visual cues.

The Ebbinghaus illusion has played a crucial role in the debate over the existence of separate pathways in the brain for perception and action. Experiments have shown that, while adult subjects perceive the center circles as differing in size, they reach out to grasp the circle accurately. In theory, this is due to the process of perception using a different visual pathway than the process of action. While adults rarely misjudge the size of the center disk while reaching for it, experiments have found that young children do, in fact, misjudge size both perceptually and through action. Researchers have proposed that this is because young children rely on both pathways to process tasks, instead of the separate pathways that adults use.[2]


The Ebbinghaus illusion is a useful means of studying the various effects of perception on the brain. By studying the differences in reaction to the illusion between children and adults, conclusions have been drawn about brain development and function.


  1. Burton, Gregory. "The Tenacity of Historical Misinformation: Titchener Did Not Invent the Titchener Illusion" The History of Psychology. American Psychological Association. ISSN 1093-4510. Retrieved October 30, 2007.
  2. Hanisch, C., J. Konszak, and C. Dohle. "The effect of the Ebbinghaus illusion on grasping behaviour of children" Department of Psychology. University of Dusseldorf, Germany. PMID 11315553 Retrieved October 30, 2007

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Franz V.H., and Scharnowski F. Gegenfurtner. “Illusion effects on grasping are temporally constant not dynamic.” J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 31(6) (2005): 1359-78.
  • Goodale and Milner. “Separate pathways for perception and action.” Trends in Neuroscience, 15 (1992): 20-25.
  • Noe, Alva. "Is the Visual World a Grand Illusion? (Journal of Consciousness Studies Controversies in Science & the Humanities)." Imprint Academic, June 2002. ISBN 0907845231
  • Plous, Scott. "The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making." McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, January 1, 1993. ISBN 0070504776

External links

All links retrieved February 12, 2024.


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