Dr. Alan Ho Finalist for Best Illusion of the Year Competition

As one of the top ten finalists for the Best Illusion of the Year Competition, Ambrose psychology professor Dr. Alan Ho recently travelled to present his research at the awards gala in Naples, Florida. The Best Illusion of the Year Competition has been held annually since 2004 and is sponsored by the Neural Correlate Society in order to celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community.

“I generated a lot of interests and received much positive and encouraging feedback from vision research colleagues,” says Dr. Ho of his reception at the gala. “I had a lot of fun preparing for it and presenting the illusion for over a thousand attendees inside the Philharmonic Center for the Arts.”

Dr. Ho and his colleague professor Stuart Anstis of the University of California in San Diego came up with the idea for their entry, The Coyote Illusion: Motion Blur Increases Apparent Speed, while working together on another project in human motion perception.  Dr. Ho noticed that the apparent turning speed in a rotating fan shaped stimulus he was working on appeared to double as the number of blades increased from four to eight, despite the actual angular velocity of the turning fan remaining constant throughout the period.

“Commercially, we can use this illusion to create the perception of high speed movements in computer game design, cartoon animation, and on marquee and billboard signs using flashing light elements,” says Dr. Ho.  In fact, the name Coyote Illusion refers to the use of this technique by the cartoonists who created the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote Show.

But this illusion doesn’t just entertain us on Saturday mornings, it also matters to our safety. If you are driving on a highway,” Dr. Ho explains, “the closely planted trees, fence poles and guardrails you see near the roadside may influence your ability to accurately judge the speed of your vehicle when not looking at the speedometer.  More significantly, a pilot may overestimate the speed of the plane during landing process at night if the guiding lights on the landing strip are placed too closely together. The opportunity of using this illusion to bring awareness of safety concerns or enhance our living experiences is only limited by our imagination.”

Dr. Ho is trained in the field of psychobiology and visual neuroscience. He uses psychophysics—a method that relates the subjective human psychological experience with the physical characteristics of visual stimuli—to study human visual perception.

Watch The Coyote Illusion.

Read about the contest.