The Best Illusion of the Year 2014 Award

By Anupum Pant

You probably know the static Ebbinghaus illusion – where a circle appears bigger around smaller circles even when it is of the same size. It’s static because it works without moving. Well, if you don’t know, you should because it helps you lose weight in a very subtle manner.

A slight variation involving movement of the Ebbinghaus illusion won the best illusion award for the year 2014. Yes, there are annual awards for the best illusions (I never knew that!). This one which won the award was submitted by researchers from the University of Nevada Reno.

The new variation is called the Dynamic Ebbinghaus effect. This is what happens in it…

 best illusion animation

There’s an arrangement of circles, exactly like the Ebbinghaus illusion, but there’s just one of the sets from the static illusion discussed above. While this arrangement of circles move, the central circle remains of the same size and the surrounding circles change in size.

Now, if you look into the central circle, you’ll see that it changes size too. In reality, it doesn’t. This effect is weaker when you look directly into the central circle. To make it more pronounced, you can shift your focus to the side and look at it through your peripheral vision. It’s totally mesmerizing. No wonder it won.

It works even when you  know about it.

Drink it Right and Coffee Can Help You Remember Well

By Anupum Pant

With our ever-increasing hours at work, coffee is what keeps most of us running at office. While some revel in the ability to stay hyper active by taking in no dose of caffeine whatsoever, others just can’t live without it. A few days without coffee can turn them into irritated, stressed out and cranky colleagues.

Caffeine in coffee, coke and other energy drinks basically works by tricking your brain into thinking it isn’t tired, even when it badly needs rest. In short, it messes with your brain by creating an artificial brain chemistry to keep you alert. So can it really be good in any way?

Obviously, at such a stage, still keeping up with the intake can harm your brain (up to some extent) without it showing any clear signs. Lack of sleep (at the time when it is needed) can mean, starving brain of the time to perform several essential processes – Memory consolidation being one of them. As a result, lack of sleep means, you are not forming strong memories.

So, how does it help you remember well when it doesn’t let you form strong memories?

According to Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain science at John Hopkins University, and his team, caffeine can indeed have positive effects on your memory. The trick lies in limiting your intake of coffee. In a study, they have been able to show that caffeine intake can enhance certain kinds of memories even when tested after a day.

Study in short: In a double-blind trial where subjects were given caffeine tablets or placebos and were shown images of a few objects. It was found that people who were given caffeine doses showed a deeper lever of memory retention on the other day than people who were given placebos.

Since caffeine isn’t very effective after about 6 hours, people feel a need to replenish their bodies with more of it. It seems as if it is addictive, but as Hank says, technically, it isn’t. You can positively keep on drinking red bulls for the whole day and not get addicted to it. It will make you cranky for a day or two, but you won’t experience any long-lasting effects. The thing is, if you drink a lot of it, you’ll not sleep well and give your brain enough time to consolidate memories. So, since it isn’t really addictive, a good idea would be to limit the intake.

Solution: The crux of it comes down to keeping your intake of coffee to about 200 mg a day. That means, a cup of strong coffee or 2 small cups of normal coffee every day, is actually good for your brain.  As the recent research shows, it helps you remember well. That much, will help you consolidate memories during sleep (at the same time, it won’t mess with your sleep). Anything more than that will probably mess with your activities and anything less than that will have no effect on your memory. [Video]

McGurk Effect – What You See is What You Hear

By Anupum Pant

Do Not Cheat

  1. Close your eyes: Before you watch this video, you should know that, when you watch it for the first time, you have to watch it with closed eyes. Well, you can’t ‘watch’ with closed eyes. It simply means, you have to just hear the sound track first. I’m sure you can do it because closing eyes for 5 seconds is not asking for much. I don’t have any veiled interests here. It is for you. You won’t appreciate the effect if you keep your eyes open during the first go.
  2. Open your eyes: Watch it again with your eyes open. Be calm. It happens to everyone.

So that was the McGurk effect. It is a perfect example to show that accurate perception of reality may involve more than one sense. This is called “Multimodal perception”. In simple words, our senses do not learn from the surroundings independent from each other, they work together and learn together to help us perceive information.

The video

The video shows a man moving his lips as if saying “Ga” or “Da”, although it is just a visual of him saying that, let us call this the visual for the first sound (“Da” sound). The second sound is the “Ba” sound that is actually playing – this is the second sound.

When your eyes are closed, you hear the correct sound, the second sound – the “Ba” sound.
When you watch it again with your eyes open, you hear the “Da” sound. The brain combines the visual and audio signals to make you believe that the sound you are hearing is actually “Da”. Even if you are aware of this illusion, your brain doesn’t correct it for you, no matter how many times you repeat this.

Some interesting things about McGurk effect

  • You can focus anywhere on the face (not just the mouth) to perceive the same effect.
  • Women show a stronger McGurk effect than men.
  • Normally, people with mental disorders do not hear much difference in the sound with eyes open or closed.
  • By the age of 4 months, infants are able to identify facial movements and relate them to sounds. So, even infants show this effect to a certain extent.
  • Information rich perceptions are easier to remember. So, the next time you are trying to learn something, involve more senses. Probably involving a particular smell that goes with a piece of information will help you remember things well. Or a sound, maybe.

Note: Since my posts were getting longer everyday, I’ve tried to keep this one short. I don’t want the posts to be overwhelming for people who are not used to long reading. This blog is meant to make science sound interesting to everybody, not to scare them away from it. I’ll be waiting to receive your feedback on this. You can get in touch through twitter (@indigoanalysis)