The Neural Science Behind the Alien Faces Optical Illusion Shown With Images of Famous YouTubers

Alien Faces Illusion

Steve Gould, a television, stage and video presenter of science, very succinctly explained the concept of the Flashed Face Distortion Effect aka the Alien Faces Illusion, a facial distortion illusion created with the fast-paced presentation of faces looking straight into the camera. For his presentation, Gould used side-by-side photos of well known YouTubers, about many of whom we’ve previous written, including Hank Green, John Green, Tom Scott, Smarter Everyday, Casey Neistat, asapSCIENCE, Ze Frank and of course Steve Mould. Mould causes the human brain to see these untouched images as distorted.

Actually there’s two possible explanations one is that faces suddenly changing is not something that happens in the real world it’s not something we’ve evolved to cope with. It’s only something that happens on television screens… that’s one possibility. The other possibility is something called neural adaptation and that’s an amazing thing and one of my favorite examples is motion after effect…motion after effect it’s the result of neural adaptation, this idea that if you’re constantly stimulating neuron and the neuron stops flowing.

Gould also explained the Thatcher Effect and offered a really interesting, interactive example of the motion after effect within neural adaption.

Stare at the center of this image. Keep staring at the center and what you’re doing is stimulating neurons in your brain whose job it is to detect and interpret motion from your field of view and so, by keeping your eyes fixed you’re stimulating the same neurons again and again …if you continuously stimulate neurons they eventually stop firing, so your sense of motion will actually become dampened, but then what happens is when you look at something that isn’t moving your experience the opposite of the motion you were experiencing before because the neurons responsible for the opposite motion are still up and running if you like so if you now look at the palm of your hand it will seem as if your hand is moving in the opposite way

Motion After Effect

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.