Is that circle green or gray? Are the center lines straight or tilted?

Optical illusions can be fun to experience and debate, but understanding how human brains perceive these different phenomena remains an active area of scientific research. For one class of optical illusions, called contextual phenomena, those perceptions are known to depend on context. For example, the color you think a central circle is depends on the color of the surrounding ring. Sometimes the outer color makes the inner color appear more similar, such as a neighboring green ring making a blue ring appear turquoise — but sometimes the outer color makes the inner color appear less similar, such as a pink ring making a grey circle appear greenish.

A team of Brown University computer vision experts went back to square one to understand the neural mechanisms of these contextual phenomena. Their study was published on Sept. 20 in Psychological Review.

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