Category Archives: Seeing

An Opthamologist on Mars

Oliver Sacks is interviewed on NeuroTribes where he talks about his forthcoming book and his own experience of spectacular hallucinations that occurred after he developed a tumour behind his retina. NeuroTribes is a new blog by ace science writer and Wired veteran Steve Silberman. It is part of the new PLoS science blog network and […]

Distractingly attractive

Driver distractions are a major cause of road accidents. A new study has found that just a simple conversation with someone else in the car can be enough to increase driver errors and that the risk is greater if we fancy the passenger. The research was conducted in a driving simulator by Cale Whitea and […]

Flowers, falling maple leaves and wriggling dwarves

I love this summary of a study on unusual hallucinations in an elderly Japanese lady. The full article is in Japanese but the translation of the abstract and the form of her hallucinations gives it a stylised quality that reminds me of the traditional art from the country. The last sentence is wonderfully zen-like. [Formed […]

Dark restaurant alters appetite and eating

We often assume that our appetite depends on how much food we’ve eaten, but a new study conducted in a completely dark restaurant has demonstrated that we don’t feel any more full if secretly slipped extra large portions of food. What we see, it seems, plays a big role in how hungry we feel. The […]

Purple haze: paint huffing hallucinations differ by hue

Adolescent solvent abusers reported that different colours of paint cause different types of hallucinations, according to a remarkable study just published in Drug and Alcohol Review. The research, led by Michael Takagi from the University of Melbourne, was only a small study of 16 young people who sniffed spray paints, but the results are quite […]

Missing the big picture in the faces of others

RadioLab has an interesting discussion between neurologist Oliver Sacks and artist Chuck Close about their experience of having prosopagnosia – the inability to recognise people by their faces. The condition is often called ‘face blindness’ but the discussion gives a great illustration of why the label is so inaccurate because Chuck Close is famous for […]

Hallucinating the void

Rhode Island Medical News recently published an April fools article where the author joked about negative hallucinations, where someone didn‚Äôt see things that were really there, seemingly unaware that such hallucinations are in fact possible. The article, which you can read online as a pdf, has various humorous references to jumping traffics lights or ignoring […]

Visual acuity improves by autopilot

We tend to assume that visual acuity, the ability to distinguish fine detail with our eyes, is a physical limit of the body but a new study just published online by Psychological Science shows that prompting people with ideas about people who have excellent eyesight actually improves clearness of vision. The research was led by […]

In the Exploratorium’s distorted room

The San Francisco Exploratorium is the Mind Hacks of science museums – every exhibit is hands on, giving you the chance to experiment with and experience for yourself scientific principles. Obviously, one of my favourite exhibits was a psychology demonstration, one based on a classic visual illusion known as the “Ames’ Room”. We’ve a small […]

Clearing the fog of vision

Neuroscientist Pawan Sinha gave an inspiring talk to TED India about his work on providing treatment for visual problems and how this is over-turning many of our long-standing assumptions about how the brain develops the ability to make sense of the visual world. Sinha focuses on children and adults who have grown up with congenital […]

Hallucinating reality’s wallpaper

Hallucinations usually appear as illusory objects on the normal background of reality, but an interesting case report in the medical journal Movement Disorders reports a case of someone who hallucinated background scenery on which real people were superimposed. We describe a patient with PD [Parkinson’s disease], who had unusual background scenery VHs [visual hallucinations] on […]

Does squinting really improve vision?

Science radio show Quirks and Quarks had a fascinating segment on its most recent programme asking whether squinting really does help you see more clearly. It turns out, it does. The programme talks to ophthalmologist Stephanie Baxter from Queen’s University in Kingston who notes that squinting focuses the incoming light onto the fovea – a […]

Do blind people hallucinate on LSD?

I’ve just found a remarkable 1963 study [pdf] from the Archives of Opthalmology in which 24 blind participants took LSD to see if they could experience visual hallucinations. It turns out, they can, although this seems largely to be the case in blind people who had several years of sight to begin with, but who […]

Visual illusions can be caused by imagination

A fantastic study just published in Cognition reports that the motion aftereffect illusion, where staring at something constantly moving in one direction causes illusory movement in the opposite direction when you look away, can be caused just by imagining that the movement is happening. The effect is occasionally called the ‘waterfall illusion’ because it can […]

The shadows of the moon

In the celebrations of the fifty-year forty-year anniversary of the moon landing, we’ve probably all seen this iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin’s footprint on the lunar surface: Looking at it again yesterday, I realised that there was something that disturbed me about it. The footprint looks wrong somehow. Our world-knowledge tells us that footprints press […]

Blink outside the box

RadioLab has a brilliant short podcast on the psychological role of blinks, based on a study that found that when watching a film our blinks are remarkably synchronised. The programme dispels the myth that blinking serves only to keep our eyes wet as apparently studies have shown that we don’t blink any more or less […]


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