A “Psychological” Optical Illusion

This one has been circulating the net lately, so it would be shame if I didn’t share it with you guys as well. What is the story behind the picture below? The influence of culture and environment can have an effect on our visual perception – believe it or not. This theory was first explored by Robert Laws, a Scottish missionary working in Africa during the late 1800’s. Take a look at the picture below – what you see will largely depend on where you live in the world. After that you have examined the picture, scroll below for a more detailed explanation. Original article can be found here.

So What Did You See – What is above the woman’s head? When scientists showed a similar sketch to people from East Africa, nearly all the participants in the experiment said she was balancing a box or metal can on her head. In a culture containing few angular visual cues, the family is seen sitting under a tree. Westerners, on the other hand, are accustomed to the corners and boxlike shapes of architecture. They are more likely to place the family indoors and to interpret the rectangle above the woman’s head as a window through which shrubbery can be seen.

124 Replies to “A “Psychological” Optical Illusion”

  1. I like this one a lot. I actually thought the “thing” above the woman’s head was a painting. i see them indoors, but I can see how it could be outside even though the leaves of the tree are at a funny angle.

  2. wait, r we sposed to see the people (not to be racist) in any diferant way too? because I thought that they kind of resembled the people in the heart of africa which affected my desicion of saying they were under a tree, and balancing a box.

  3. OMG I love this illusion. However, I find it hard to believe that anyone would think that line and stuff all around is a tree, c’mon. but i find this illusion meaningful :)

  4. first!
    i see a window above the ladys head but what about the tree i see a tree but the tree is indoors or the windor is floting outdoors

  5. I was shown this picture about 6 months ago by my Psych teacher in class with almost the exact same description… Cool differentiation. I still see ’em inside, but if I come across somebody from Africa I’ll have to ask.

  6. I actually considered the possibility that it was a box on the woman’s head, but if you look at it, the perspective’s all wrong. If it is a box, it’s really poorly drawn.

  7. When I was looking at the image, I thought “Where in the world is the illusion here? All I see is a famiy in a house.” After reading the explanation, though, I realized how it can really have different interpretations. I had a second look and – voila! – I could see the window as a box, the corner of the walls as a tree.
    Kudos to Robert Laws, and to whoever did this image.

  8. What I percieved from the picture is that the family are cannibals and they just finished killing and eating a missionary. His blood-splatter can be seen on the window above the woman’s head. They are very full and happy with themselves. The dog, who is looking at us is simply asking us to rescue him because he is dessert.

  9. i didnt really see the tree and that lady balancing a box at first, but i saw that they’re sitting in a room and above that ladie’s head is a windoow.. weird..

  10. woot first comment
    this is hella cool. at first i was a little confused about it, until i realized what the illusion was about.
    it DOES look like a house, and that square does look like a window

  11. amazing… i saw the window.. and i dont really think i would ever think of it as anything else…
    but the conclusion is very interesting.. great one.. well done

  12. wow, that is the dumbest thing i’ve ever seen. take you a degree to figure out the inferences made by individual cultures? kill yourself.

  13. A good idea for this illusion would be to state your country before you post. You know, to help others understand what you see.

    United States

    I see a family in a room, but instead of a window, a picture in a frame.

  14. KOOL!!!! I’m the first one to comment! I live in the western world so I totally thought they were indoors, and there was a window. I love these kinds of physcological tests!

  15. I saw that.

    And the dog depending how you look at it can look like a goat. Goats are prised in third world counries for milk and seling for money.

    Also the people on the left look like the are wearing kimonoes. If you look for it.

  16. i saw indoors, and a window… i’d have to take your word on the under a tree box on the head idea… i don’t see it, i guess it’s possible people of other cultures would?

  17. I found the explanation of this interesting, as I saw it as they were sitting in a “room with a window”. I don’t understand how people thinking they were sitting under a tree would explain away the “box” above her head, especially as it has ” interior depth” yet no outside width.

  18. See, I saw it and thought they were indoors merely because the man was sitting in a chair. I guess theoretically they could be sitting outside, but my first instinct is to guess indoors.

  19. the first one! well, what i see in this picture is a family that is indoors. Its kindda weird to think that the woman is balancing a box and they are under a tree..

  20. wow! im really impresed with the comment more than the picture obviously, this is when our empiric sense comes to play… and plays with our mind… i think that is a very good psyco-visual illusion :)
    really like this one (if you get the idea of how important is this small thing in the developmetn)

  21. There appears to be a bit more to this illusion. All six characters seem to be intertwined in pairs and there is perhaps a distinct racial difference in all 3 couples which may also trick the brain from a cultural perspective.

  22. Indeed. I saw that the family was inside of a room first. More over, at the begining I thought that the family is “european”, but after reading the last part of your comment you can easily imagine them being from Africa seating under a tree. Or not? :)

  23. I saw the window/box as a box first then a window, I didn’t think the scribble at the top to be a tree thou. Other than that I can see a gay couple and a lesbian couple, then two kids (Presumably why the two families have met).

    Then there’s a dog.

  24. Personally, It looked to me like a family being held captive. I did not notice window or tree, just that some seem to have arms behind in submission, and some do not. That is what is what I see first.

  25. its a window. the angle of the top left corner is not angeled like a box would. it clearl shows as the inside of the wall(box would be 45 degs to the right.

  26. all this shows to me is that the countries mentioned must have some kind of visual-spatial or artistic impairment. It is definately a window, there is no other interpretation. It is clearly drawn as a opening in a ‘wall-like’ solid. The ‘tree’ would have to be an incredibly naive drawing to be a tree. Taking into account the relative accuracy of the people it would most logically be interpreted as an interior corner of a room (even the shading of the horizontal ceiling plane verifys this).

    I can see the other interpretations, but they are obviously not just ‘alternative’, but flawed and incorrect. The drawing needs to be more naive and less precise in its rending of the scene to work in this context.

    This test would show: lack of artistic knowledge, lack of visual awareness, and lack of basic logic skills.

    How could it be a box on her head? It very plainly is not, although it could be with the alteration of a few lines.

    Not an illusion, and is a crap non-illusion at that. First time here, and won’t be back.

  27. Nonsense. That can’t be a box, the perspective is wrong. And a tree!? Fair enough maybe not the corner of a room. This just proves that people who think differently to me are wrong.

  28. ooo.
    i saw both the first time.
    at first it was the room,
    but when i focused on the window, the corner seemed to look like a tree, and that the box was balanced ont he lady’s head.

  29. well sorry to say, but it has to be a window. to assume it was a box, makes throws out all the angles, you’re basically saying the artist can’t draw.

    I get the idea of it, but when you see how well the rest of the drawing is done, the “box on head theory” fall down, that’s not down to my origin, it’s down to understanding perspective.

  30. as an art student i can argue that the box above the woman is a window because it’s draw in perspective to the corner, which if was meant to be a tree is a rather poorly drawn tree. if they were outdoors, what is the purpose of the single tree in the background leaving everything else white with out a background and middle ground? that lack displaces the people. but assuming theres a window and corner, the picture makes sense.

    so unless im totally not doing my job, and thers some crazy symbolism of people outdoors balancing a box under a tree…they gotta be inside

  31. I am a Westerner, however, I travelled to Africa last year, so I could see this pic in several different ways… I really love this pic/illusion very much, thanks for sharing it and again… keep up the wonderful work! This site is AWESOME! :D

  32. I do like this one. Being from Canada I saw everything as indoors but if I see the corner as a tree then everything changes. These I do like. Makes a person think and see from another persons perspective.

  33. This is very cool!!! I saw the “window” first so i thought it was an indoor… but i think that if the first thing i saw was the “corner” i would have thought that was a tree!!..

    …pretty good “illusion”.

  34. thats awsome, i saw them in a house but i see how people would get the tree and how the lady is balencing a box on her head

  35. I saw a woman balancing a can on head in a room and a woman balancing a can on head outside under a tree…

  36. It doesn’t mean nothing at all. I am Tunisian (North Africa) and I’ve seen what “Western people” are supposed to see … A family indoors and a window.

    1. i agree with you.. i think this is a cool illusion, in that it can be seen both ways, but i am from south africa, and i saw the “western” windows and room. the description suggests that people in “africa” are rural and aren’t used to houses.

    2. um no… 2 thirds of south africa are black… why do think its white people land? apartheid? i hope not, because apartheid ended 17 years ago.

  37. I see them sitting outside between two buildings with flat roofs. Partially because the clothes they are wearing makes it look like it’s hot, and when it’s hot you go outside for the wind. Though If I focus I can sort of see them in a room.

  38. What, are we (Westerners) the only people that have ever seen a window or the corner of a room? This one SUCKS!!!

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