Ebbinghaus deception

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The Ebbinghaus illusion is a visual perception illusion in which a central circle is perceived to be of different sizes, depending on the size of a ring from further circles.

The red inner circle is the same in both cases.


The description of the deception comes from the psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), who made it known in the 1890s. It became popular through a textbook by Edward B. Titchener , hence also "Titchener circles".

Stimulus and observation

A circle is surrounded by a ring of several equally large circular areas, usually 5, 6 or 8. The central circle appears smaller, the larger the surrounding circles become. A dynamic change in the peripheral circles is particularly clear. Children under the age of seven are not mistaken to the same extent as adults. According to van Ulzen et al. Images in the circles can cause a change in the perception of size compared to circles without images. In addition, there is an influence of positive or negative image content.

Interpretations and connections

  • Size control through attention [van Ulzen (2008)]. Images with negative content attract more attention and therefore appear larger than circles that contain positive images or are empty.
  • Development phenomenon [Doherty (2010)]. The ability to perceive the size contrast as in the Ebbinghaus phenomenon only develops slowly towards the end of childhood.
  • Size of the visual cortex . Subjects were most likely to be deceived in their perception of size when the surface of the visual cortex was small.
  • Perception Angle Hypothesis. Only the section of the retinal image is processed for perception that includes the stimulus (the overall image) and is therefore based on its size. It is projected in the visual system onto a memory or internal monitor of constant extent. A small stimulus is perceived on this monitor in a certain size. A larger stimulus - the same inner circle, but with much larger circles around it - requires a larger angle of perception. If its content is displayed on the same monitor, the inner circle must appear smaller than in the first case.

Comparable deceptions

The Delboeuf illusion appears to be a related phenomenon in cause and effect.

Individual evidence

  1. Bach, M (2013). Dynamic Ebbinghaus Illusion. http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/cog-EbbingDyn/index.html .
  2. Doherty, MJ; Campbell, NM; Tsuji, H, and Phillips, WA (2010). The Ebbinghaus illusion deceives adults but not young children. Development Science, 13, 714-721. doi : 10.1111 / j.1467-7687.2009.00931.x .
  3. ^ NR van Ulzen, GR Semin, RR Oudejans, PJ Beek: Affective stimulus properties influence size perception and the Ebbinghaus illusion. In: Psychological research. Volume 72, number 3, May 2008, pp. 304-310, doi : 10.1007 / s00426-007-0114-6 , PMID 17410379 , PMC 2668624 (free full text).
  4. Archive link ( Memento of the original from November 17, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. .  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.nationalgeographic.de
  5. McCready, D (1985). On size, distance, and visual angle perception. Perception and Psychophysics, 27, 323-334.