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Seeing Stars

Using optical illusions to help understand how the brain constructs scenes

08 August 2021

Seeing Stars

What can you see here? If we break it down, there are a series of concentric rings, each formed from heptagons laid over each other. But pieced together as a whole – as the brain does in a fraction of a second – most people perceive something that isn’t actually here. Do you see shimmering white lines emanating outwards from the centre? This 'scintillating starburst' and other visual illusions can help researchers understand how the brain assembles a representation of the outside world – 'constructing' scenes that are often a compromise between peripheral and central vision. While researchers search for biological explanations for different illusions, psychologists can make use of how they fool the brain – exploring conditions which carry problems in perception such as schizophrenia.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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