Spinning Dancer Illusion | Ballerina Optical Illusion Explained In Detail

Spinning Dancer Illusion | Ballerina Optical Illusion Explained In Detail

Have you heard about the ballerina optical illusion.

It has been one of the famous deceits of perception. This interesting play of mind was created by Nobuyuki Kayahara in 2003, which shows the black silhouette of a spinner dancer on the background of grey. When one views the spinning ballerina illusion, the dancer seems to be taking the pirouette in a clockwise direction if the viewer believes that it is the left foot touching the ground or in the anticlockwise direction if the belief is that it is the right foot touching the ground. Another possibility that occurs is if the spinning ballerina seems to change directions and you are able to view both i.e. clockwise and anticlockwise. This change can be attained by blinking or with an effort to focus on certain specific parts of the image.

The spinning dancer illusion comes under the category of optical illusions named reversible images; it is where the image gives the perception of being in not just one but in its reverse path too. 


Illusion tells you whether your left or right brain is dominant?

What is interesting is that there were many wrong assumptions about the spinning ballerina illusion that was given a lot of influence on the internet including with many youtube videos; it explained that the direction is actually related to the dominance of the hemisphere of your brain or perhaps your personalities.

It was said that if your right hemisphere, the one that makes you intuitive, spontaneous, synthesizing, subjective with your focus on the bigger picture, is dominant then you see the spinner dancer move in clockwise direction and if your left brain/hemisphere, the one that makes you rational, logical, objective, detail-oriented, and analytical is dominant that you will be perceiving the spinning ballerina to take the pirouette in the anti-clockwise direction. Now, to make matters worse what was also believed that if you are a person of higher IQ then you will be able to see the dancer take the spin in both directions.

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The truth

An online survey was done in 2008 (Munger), it was one of the factors that demystified these prior myths. During the survey, it was obvious that the spinning dancer illusion does not help in determining whether you are “right-brained” or “left-brained”. The study was conducted online with over 1,600 participants. The one fact that the makers of the survey found intriguing was its ambiguity – the point that the spinner dancer appears to be spinning in both directions.

About two-thirds of viewers saw the spinning ballerina go clockwise whereas one-third saw it spin anticlockwise. What they further noticed next that during the spinning dancer illusion two-third of the participants were able to reverse the direction that they viewed in initially. Of course, doing so was also partially based on the initial observation of the motion, as in which direction were you able to notice first…if first, the spinner dancer moves in an anticlockwise direction, the likelihood of you being able to reverse the perception is higher, compared if your first notice was of the clockwise direction.

There is a possibility that since most people initially view the spinning ballerina illusion clockwise, therefore have more difficulty in reversing from clockwise to anticlockwise.

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Why are we being illuded?

Now the question that knocks the mind is how is it possible for human mind to perceive one image rotating in two direction?

The answer mainly relies upon human depth perception. Our ability to perceive depth is what makes us so in tuned with what we see. The reason why we are able to see two answers in one simple image of ballerina optical illusion is because of the lack of visual cues for depth. The alteration in the state of perception of the 2-dimensional figure is what science called bistable perception. In our normal day-to-day life, there is only one interpretation of the stimulus as opposed to the spinning dancer illusion which has the possibility of two interpretations. 

To bring it in points – the reasons why the spinning ballerina illusion and why most of us in anticlockwise.

1. Clear lack of depth cues

2. The viewer has the possibility to observe the arms of spinning ballerina in front of her body, making it seem as anticlockwise or if viewed as behind her body then as clockwise. 

3. The foot of the dancer in the ballerina optical illusion is more easily perceived as her right foot thus making her spin in the left.

Because of the lack of visual cues, the human brain reaches a state of confusion and tries to resolve the problem in the best way it knows how; it imposes an answer where there is a lack of. Well, to put it simply, your brain is guessing. We do this often too, for example when driving in pitch dark, your brain projects a pavement on the road, because if it doesn’t will be fearful of driving and thus rendering the task incomplete. In general, the silhouettes have far low visual cues, but when it comes to the spinning ballerina in the image, it has a lot of darkness especially around the palaces that present cues of the brain.   

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Techniques to outsmart the illusion

This case of multiple stimulus can be overrun by techniques such as rapid blinking, narrowing of visual focus or the tilting of the head.

What you can also do in the spinning ballerina illusion is cover up everything but her foot that is touching the ground, relax. Then watch the foot, observe the shadow beneath the spinning ballerina. Now if you want the switch of directions in the spinning ballerina illusion, you must assume as if you are filming her from below – anticlockwise and assume you are filming her from above – clockwise direction.Now, why exactly does this spinning dancer illusion technique works is – the human mind usually associates things that are harmful, to be on the ground. for example, a snake that can harm? On the ground. So, when your brain sees the ballerina optical illusion and reaches the state of confusion, it automatically assumes a perception as though you are looking downward. Think of the Necker cube illusion, it’s a huge probability that you are looking at it from the downward perception too.

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