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By on July 12, 2011, with 75 Comments

As Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo explains, this optical illusion is one of the weirdest, freakiest brain phenomenon you’ll ever experience. What I’m about to show you is called the flashed face distortion effect, and if you just follow the instructions at the beginning of this video you’ll be able to experience it yourselves.

Although Jason M Tangen, Sean C Murphy and Matthew B Thompson (the authors of this scientific study) —have yet to fully explain the illusion they discovered, it seems as if it happens because we’re only given a short period of time to examine each picture. For some reason our brain tries to differentiate the two faces that we’re seeing, and to do so (in such short time interval) —it ends up exaggerating the features of each face.

This reminds me of something that can often be seen in real life: have you ever noticed how girls prefer to hang out with other girls they find less attractive (than what they think of themselves)? I guess this study may have touched the tip of an iceberg, and eventually prove how woman’s intuition understands the way our male brain operates. By aggressively differentiating and making choices – in the end we often end up dating girls we wouldn’t normally choose (under different circumstances). Crazy, right? I’d just like to know whether this works the other way round? Do you think us guys feel more secure when we approach girls, while having a less prominent sidekick by our side?

We describe a novel face distortion effect resulting from the fast-paced presentation of eye-aligned faces. When cycling through the faces on a computer screen, each face seems to become a caricature of itself and some faces appear highly deformed, even grotesque. The degree of distortion is greatest for faces that deviate from the others in the set on a particular dimension (eg if a person has a large forehead, it looks particularly large). This new method of image presentation, based on alignment and speed, could provide a useful tool for investigating contrastive distortion effects and face adaptation — Jason M Tangen

  • PromiseMe

    That is freaky.

  • Steve

    Very cool effect!

  • jazz

    that happens to me alot when i just glimpse at somebodies face really quick

    • malcolm

      Of course it does..nutter

  • Suzanne

    OMG – that is awesome!

  • t

    That is one of the most amazing illusions you have ever presented. It frightens me that my perceptive qualities, which I have always been proud of, can so easily be fooled.

  • Bread

    This is amazing.
    I’ve never seen anything like this

  • bluepool


  • Brendan

    This is really cool lookking at the cross the faces seem weird but then look at the faces and there fine.

  • me123987645

    That is REALLY cool!!!

  • genie

    Thats creepy! Very creepy!

  • Kimon

    WHOA! My brain keeps adding a third eye in the forehead.

    Whatever is going on there, it may also have something to do with our peripheral vision because if you look directly at the faces on either side, they don’t distort. I wonder if the effect still works when the two faces are spaced closer together (and thereby closer to the focus of our view).

    • Emily

      My eyes don’t focus together and tend to give me double vision when I stare at stuff and concentrate on just one point, like the cross in the center of the screen. In my weirded out view, EVERYONE became monocular – or having only one eye! So the females I saw were extra distorted when I looked at them. The issue with my eyes also makes those “Magic Eye” pictures next to impossible for me to see.


    lol, I freaked out when the face suddenly changed.

    Other than that, this is a really cool illusion!

  • ZL123


  • Kimbo

    neat – had me scared for a sec

  • Lani

    Eeeeeeek!!!!! That is very weird, I might have nightmares of the pig face I saw! It’s quite amazing though how the brain interprets what we see.

  • Ed Grood

    Try this: cover one face and continue to stare at the plus so you are not looking directly at the face. You get a similar effect. I do not think the illusion has to do with different right/left images. It likely has more to do with persistence of the visual system, i.e. the retention of images there actual presence. This will result in the brain mixing together, and trying to make sense, out of successive images that appear in the same position. The fact that the images are not in the center of the visual field is also important but I do not have sufficient knowledge to explain this. I suspect it has to do with the amount of detail acquired as a function of location within the visual field.

    • Ed Grood

      Correction: “i.e. the retention of images there actual presence.” should have read “i.e. the retention of images after they are removed.”

  • Leroy

    This kind of creeped me out. The faces morphed into weird shapes, like that of cartoons or monsters. A glance at the faces show that the faces were actually normal.

    Cool illusion anyway!

  • Balsiefen

    Err, if you stop the video at any time, you see many of the people in the photographs actually do have pretty weird faces.

  • mopezero

    Wow…I nearly jumped when the first faces became hideous trolls in my periphery

  • Koaieus

    Moral of the stody: Girls, stop changing your looks so often and quickly :P

    • Koaieus


  • Yimmer

    Awesomely grotesque!!! Maybe this is what happens when we walk across a crowded room…

  • serber

    this is so cool. 5 out of 5


    The effect is somewhat diminished as it is difficult to keep focused on the “+”, yet even though I am blind in one eye, it is noticeable…

  • Care Bear

    I’m not sure what I was supposed to see, however there was some really butt-ugly stuff on there, cross or no cross.

  • Ola

    OMG that’s freaky, they look like aliens when you look in the middle, but when you look at them normlly they are just normal!

  • http://BowlingTracker.com James Smith

    It’s definately interesting, but doesn’t seem to be due to side by side faces. I can cover one face, but continue looking at the cross-hairs and the faces still seem grotesque.

    It seems like it’s more of the fast pace from one face to another, it blurs the previous (1 or 2… or 3) and present images together.

    It’s still cool.

  • Penguin.love

    Lol. Funny.

  • Valerie

    WOW! I really like this illusion, it was really difficult to watch but it is a fantastic illusion. My children loved it and have watched it over and over again. Some of the people looked like a mix between animals and people. Like I said I did love it but I won’t be watching it again, not by myself anyway. What can I say I scare easily.

    As for your other point. I think that we all have a friend that we wish we were more like. Although I do know some not so attractive women that date really handsome men. It has to do with them exuding confidence and sexulaity. I don’t mean to sound like a self-help book but sometimes looks are not always what matter.

    However all my friends are BEAUTIFUL just like me! Well some of them are. :)

  • Sarah-Jane

    wow! that is so cool and kinda creepy at the same time!! :D

  • popesantaxiv


  • MajorWebUser

    After my tenth beer — they’re all cute!

  • HannesK

    You really have to watch the video twice to get the full effect.

  • NeeL

    Great Illusion!

  • anna

    Okay lets face it……some of these people ARRRRE ugly- Illusion or no illusion!!

  • Rob

    Holy cow! Possibly the coolest thing ever on this site.

    I wonder if this effect can also explain the phenomenon of seeing ghouls, goblins and aliens.

  • Ribber

    That is quite amazing!

  • No one

    INTENSE! I love it!

  • Grace

    From the comments it sounds like an interesting video, but I cannot watch videos on my iPod!!! In the future either
    ~Don’t post as many videos or
    ~Fix the bug!

  • KJ

    Crazy. I would’a sworn i saw a pig nose on one of those faces. =)

  • Myname

    Can’t say i am impressed, all the faces ARE kind of weird looking. With other more “normal” looking faces the effect would not hold up i guess.

  • akiko

    its the first time i saw this
    its really cool

  • Sue

    That is incredible!

  • Laughling

    This has nothing to do with comparing the faces because if you cover one side up the faces still look ugly. Even if you pause it and look away they still look ugly. So it hasn’t go anything to do with what the article is saying.

    • Osiris

      regarless of whether you think the individual faces are ugly or not the article is about exageration of features.
      It also works if you just concentrate on one side of the video, the other gets distorted.
      I put this down to the way our eyes function and also the curcature of the eyes will distort images in the periphery.
      Same as taking a closeup of a face with a wide agle lens will distort the features.


  • Beccaa

    OMD that is scary! Have shared this on Facebook <3

  • George

    Your brain is focused on the cross so by switching the pictures that quickly, it doesn’r have enough time to adjust to the next face, distorting the picture.

  • Flo

    Dude, this is weird.

  • spunkspigot

    You ask if woman experience something similar when we approach women accompanied by a less good-looking male or” wingman,” a friend thought less likely to score anyway, and therefore assigned to run interference for your game of cherchez la femme.

    Unlike the results of self-assessment among women, the truth is most guys think they’re good looking. Quite possibly the guy you think is your wingman is not offended, because he, in fact, thinks you’re his wingman. [Nevertheless, it a highly stupid to refer to your buddy as your wingman, if that is understood to mean the less studly of the duo.]

    According to “Predictably Irrational” author Dan Ariely, heterosexual subjects shown pictures of the opposite sex are less able to determine their attraction than when they were shown the same picture alongside 2 other slightly distorted images of the same face [eg, eyes closer together or jaw enlarged]. Comparison validates the attractivity of the face and, interestingly enough, also raises its rated desirability. Timber!

    Ariely cites this perceptual illusion as the basis for the phenomenon of any average-looking person appearing much more attractive when we’re given the opportunity to compare that face to other similar faces hanging out together.

    In fact all of the members of the group observed benefit, since different observers will prefer based on different criteria. Because all of the girls will luck out at least some time if only on superficial initial attraction, the group gains value for the individuals, aware of having more fun [luck] together than any do when alone. A different reason for this is that, at the very least, you must buy drinks for the whole table to have any chance with any one at the table.

    Funny to think that while you may prefer blondes, you could end up marrying the brunette who travels with a pack of them. Fascinating to know that Ariely has proven in economic situations we make irrational decisions even when we’re aware of the mechanism causing the error.

    So give up any hope of learning not to do stupid things. That’s why I personally am a strict adherent of time-tested rules like the 3 B’s: boodle, booty, and bumpers sucked free of chrome.

  • gdidksb

    If you look directly at the faces, some of them ARE altered.

  • jo

    I didnt get the point at first time..and the vid doesnt explain wery well what is supposed to see…while staring at the cross, the women all look like monsters but if you start lookin directly at them, forget the cross, you will notice they just only ugly women…not monsters with only one eye or somethin, cool illusion.

  • ZoZoZo

    woooahh mann!!! that was kinda freaky!!! i kept seeing Cyclops!!!!! o-o-o-o-ohhhh freeeeakyyy..!!!!!

  • dsfsdf

    they look like weird cartoon aliens

  • David Klink

    I see the illusion but I don’t think it has anything to do with the “comparison” between the two images that is described above. I looked at just one side at a time and got the same illusion. I think it has more to do with the SPEED at which we’re seeing the pictures.

  • sldkfju

    No, if it was the speed then it wouldn’t matter where you looked. If you are doing it properly, it has to do with the subtle differences that your mind picks up on semi-consciously. The pictures alternate between.

  • zaheer

    crap i was up late when i saw it nearly died

  • lkj

    That was absolutely fantastic. I was laughing quite hard while watching so it was a bit difficult to keep my eyes still.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CHERRY420420 CHERRY420

    wtf i couldent vew thiz shyt

  • Nicole

    it was pretty weird…

  • FizzX

    They look like scary alien humanoids!

  • http://gravatar.com/thenatureboyricflair David Blair

    Freaky humanoids!!!!!!!! :-)

  • Ranty feminist (obviously)

    “have you ever noticed how girls prefer to hang out with other girls they find less attractive (than what they think of themselves)”

    What is this? Conjecture gained from really bad hollywood movies? How do you account for the ugly girls that hang out with the supposedly superior models – are they blinded to their own mediocrity? Stick to the illusions and not the half-baked, sexist pseudo-psychological babble!!

  • And another…

    “have you ever noticed how girls prefer to hang out with other girls they find less attractive (than what they think of themselves)”

    Uh, no. That’s just something dumb misogynists made up that other dumb misogynists repeat. In fact, just the opposite is true: both male and female people, from children to adolescents to adults, tend to stay in their own attractiveness ranks most of the time. That is the case overwhelmingly. Exceptions invariably can be traced to other notable personal qualities, like being wickedly funny or extraordinarily friendly or exceptionally cool.

  • Katie

    I feel like an idiot, what am I supposed to be seeing?

  • jake

    the video was not good. but press printscreen and paste it in paint. the faces do change, slowly!

  • Beth

    If you cover one of the sides and watch it again, they are altered. That’s crap. They change through the entire cycle, and you can even see the lines where they’ve altered it.

  • Jack

    They have 1 eye sometimes

  • Mike

    I just clicked because of the Abella A nderson pic

  • mia

    it appeared as if they were turning their heads too. i hope i never look like that. that is so cool. i wish i could get a better look at the ugly faces. but thats impossible!

  • cris

    but the pictures have been altered, I’ve paused and some are clearly photoshoped.

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