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FRIMEDBIO-Fri med.,helse,biol

The illusion of empty blind zones: How things may seem to appear out of nowhere in magic shows and road accidents

Alternative title: Illusjonen av tomme blindsoner: Hvordan ting tilsynelatende dukker opp fra ingensteds i trylleshow og trafikkulykker

Awarded: NOK 9.6 mill.

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Project Period:

2023 - 2027


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In previous investigations, we have described a novel recently discovered illusion that evokes a strong feeling that the blind spot behind an obstruction of view is empty. This illusion of empty blind spots plays a pivotal role in stage magic and the art of conjuring. Because the blind zone behind certain obstructions of view looks compellingly empty, the magician may easily create the illusion that something materializes “out of thin air” by bringing it out from the blind spot behind the obstruction of view. One central aim of the BLINDZONES project is to improve our understanding of the visual mechanisms behind this illusion. A second central aim is to determine to what extent and under what circumstances this illusion may be a contributing factor in road accidents. Even though the roof pillars next to the windscreen in cars look narrow, they can create large blind spots where pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists or even other cars on collision course may lie hidden until it is much too late to brake. A central hypothesis that we will investigate in the project is that the windscreen pillars may evoke a strong illusion of empty blind spots which makes it difficult for car drivers to imagine that a collision with another road user located in the blind spot is even possible. If this hypothesis turns out to be true, it will have important implications for considerations regarding what type of interventions are optimal for reducing the risk of accidents associated with such obstructions of view. The results from the project may also have important implications for the plausibility of eye-witness statements and questions of culpability. In the project, we employ a host of different research methods, such as measures of the neural correlates of the illusion, VR-simulations of relevant traffic scenarios and summaries of in-depth investigations of previous fatal accidents.

Seeing something suddenly appear out of thin air can be an awe-inspiring and pleasurable experience when enjoyed in the context of a magic show. A pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist or car appearing out of thin air right in front of the vehicle you are driving may be equally startling, but most likely frightening or even traumatic, rather than enjoyable. Of course, things never appear out of nowhere, neither in magic shows, nor in everyday life, but they do seem to appear out of nowhere in magic shows, and car drivers involved in accidents often report that another road user seemed to appear out of nowhere just before impact. Recent research suggests that a hitherto unknown visual illusion may play a common pivotal role in both magic tricks and traffic accidents. The illusion consists in a compelling and immediate experience that the blind zone behind an object in the foreground is empty. Although the illusion refers to a region of space which is invisible, there is evidence to suggest that it is nevertheless driven by visual mechanisms and that it can be just as deceptive and powerful as ordinary visual illusions. We aim to develop a basic scientific understanding of this anomalous phenomenon, to clarify its implications for basic vision theory, and also to determine its potential role in traffic accidents involving blind zones. Based on this research, we also aim to answer the question about what countermeasures are most effective for reducing the risk of accidents associated with blind zones. The BLINDZONES project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between experts in vision science, neuroscience and road safety and will use a combination of behavioral experiments, neurophysiological measurements and virtual reality simulations of traffic accidents. In order to assess to what extent and in what specific scenarios the illusion may have contributed to reported accidents, we also aim to analyze reports from in-depth analyses of fatal accidents.

Funding scheme:

FRIMEDBIO-Fri med.,helse,biol