Poggendorff Illusion Description

Visual Perception Home Page

The Poggendorff illusion is a misalignment effect produced by the interaction of diagonal line elements with horizontal and vertical edges. Although the line segments in each picture are actually collinear, the right segment looks too high to be continuous. The rectangles are perceived as upright blocks, while the line seems to recede into the distance. The right segment is seen as farther away, and therefore higher in the visual plane.

The strength of the illusion is reduced by showing the rectangle lying in the same plane as the diagonal line, or by aligning the diagonal with imaginary lines converging at a vanishing point.

This variant demonstrates the effect for the curved edge of a circle, which does not depend on depth perception. The black bar partitions the circle into two arcs; the smaller left arc seems to draw in on itself because the eye underestimates the angle of the covered segment.

Zöllner variant. If perceived in three dimensions, the thicker lines with horizontal crossings seem to lie flat in a plane, while the vertical crossings on the other thick lines seem to prop them above the plane, making the near ends of these thick lines higher, while the far ends of all of the thick lines recede to the same vanishing point. Therefore, the angles of the lines seem to be different. The thicker lines can be perceived as straight if the thinner crossbars are grouped together (as a decorative pattern, perhaps). However, this view seems to increase the offset of the two parts of each of the thin crossbars.

This kind of illusion can also lead to distortions in the reading of graphs; although the vertical distance between the two lines above is always the same, the slanted sections look closer in value than the straighter sections.

An Interactive Poggendorf Illusion Demonstration

     Can you connect the two white line segments?  Use your left mouse button to independently move the two tilted white lines up and down along either side of the gray rectangle.  When you think that the two lines are positioned such that they lie along the same line, press the "Connect Me" button.  If you have positioned the two lines so that they are connected, a green line will be drawn between the two white lines.  If you did not, a red line will be drawn.

These buttons will change the width of the gray rectangle
These buttons will change the angle of the two white line segments
This button will connect the two line segments


     As you can see, there are many visual factors that affect the strength of this illusion.  However, by using such casual observation, we cannot mathematically measure how much an effect these factors have; moreover, it is difficult to understand precisely why they have an effect.  Experimental psychological techniques are needed to address these questions.  Therefore, we now invite you to participate in a short 5-10 minute experiment.  

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