Early history of illusions

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Illusions are considered in the context of the history of vision rather than the history of psychology. For much of its long history, the study of vision has been confined to naturalistic observation, and many motion illusions were observed in the natural world. With the move to the laboratory, the oddities of visual perception multiplied, and they received ever more detailed scrutiny. This survey examines the origins of research on visual illusions in both the natural world and the laboratory. It commences with celestial illusions and pictorial representation then proceeds to subjective visual phenomena and spatial illusions like ambiguous figures and geometrical optical illusions. However, most attention is paid to motion illusions; these include visual persistence and stroboscopic motion, induced motion, motion aftereffects, visual vertigo, and autokinetic sensations. The basis for the explosion of research on visual illusions in the nineteenth century is speculated upon.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Compendium of Visual Illusions
EditorsArthur G. Shapiro, Dejan Todorovic
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9780190654795
ISBN (Print)9780199794607
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • ambiguous figures
  • geometrical optical illusions
  • motion illusions
  • subjective visual phenomena


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