UCL News


The perception deception: maths made optical illusions

2 July 2007

Professor Alan Johnston (UCL Psychology) has worked together with computer scientist Professor Peter McOwan (Queen Mary) to investigate how can help show how our eyes and brain work together to produce visual perception and also allow us to develop useful computer applications.

Their team has been working on this research for the last 15 years, and will be presenting some of their findings this week, at the Royal Society Summer Exhibition 2007.

Understanding how the eyes and brain work together to translate the world around us into what we see is a significant scientific challenge. The interdisciplinary team of scientists are using maths to explain existing optical illusions and also creating new ones to help unravel the mystery of visual perception.

"Optical illusions are some of nature's most impressive magic tricks. They are deceptively simple and yet compelling - your brain is telling you lies," explained Professor Johnston.

"Tricking the human brain can help us understand how we see, and help us explain how our brains work. Understand what's going wrong and your part of the way to understanding how the visual system works. We can than take this understanding and use it to build useful computer applications," adds Professor McOwan.

Using mathematical models of the brain, the team have been able to predict and explain what humans see, and even create new optical illusions. As well as helping to explain the purpose of structures in the brain and important elements of human motion perception, the models have been applied to help computers recognise facial expressions, traffic speed and even to take the movement of one person's face and apply it to another.

Link: Royal Society Summer Show