Is What You're Seeing Real? Or an Optical Illusion?

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Why your sight may not be quite as reliable as you think

SAN DIEGO, CALIF (November, 2018) - Of all the senses, sight seems to be the one we can rely on most. Seeing is believing, right? Not necessarily.

In reality, our sense of sight is a lot trickier than we might think. Oftentimes, what we think we see is actually an illusion that the brain creates to supplement images glimpsed in our peripheral vision. According to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, much of what we see in our peripheral vision is just the mind making up things that aren’t really there.

“It sounds a bit like The Matrix, but the line between reality and illusion gets a bit murky when it comes to how the brain processes visual input,” explains Sandy T. Feldman MD, Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center in San Diego. “The study suggests that our peripheral vision is less detailed than what we see in the center of our visual field, but we don’t really notice any difference because our brain ‘fills in’ some of the missing pieces.”

Here’s how the experiments worked:

  • Researchers presented 20 volunteers with a series of images on a computer screen.
  • For each image, the participants focused on the center of the screen - a central image appeared, then a different image off to one side gradually faded in.
  • Participants were instructed to click a button as soon as the difference between the two images disappeared and the entire screen appeared to be uniform.
  • All the participants reported that what they saw on the periphery matched what they saw at the center of their gaze, even when the two were actually mismatched.

“Researchers hope to eventually understand why this phenomenon occurs. Perhaps because we don’t take in as much information from our side vision as we do from the center, the brain might be making an educated guess,” says Dr. Feldman. “So just because we see something with our own two eyes doesn’t always mean that it’s real.”

About Sandy T. Feldman, MD
Dr. Feldman is the Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center - voted best LASIK center in San Diego by the San Diego Union Tribune (2016 and 2017) and CityBeat Magazine two years in a row. Her numerous awards include “Top Doc San Diego” and the Goldline Award, an honor granted to only 10 laser eye care providers in the U.S. each year. She has also been profiled in Forbes, Newsweek and other top publications. Dr. Feldman is a fellow of the American College of Ophthalmic Surgeons and a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. She has successfully performed more than 20,000 refractive procedures. Details at clearvieweyes.com.

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