What influences our visual perception?

December 14, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Optical illusions seem to be popular on science related sites. I don’t usually get into them but I found this one interesting. Take a look at the drawing below. Robert Laws was a Scottish missionary who worked in Malawi in the 1880s and put forward the theory that our visual perception is influenced by one’s culture and environment. What do you see below? Examine the image before reading further.

I have to admit I had a couple of versions in my mind when I first examined this image. My immediate impression was that it looked like a group of people sitting around in a hut or a room – admittedly well-dressed people – and there is a palm tree just outside the window. Or they’re all sitting under a tree. They don’t look “Western” but then again their attire suggests they are. A happy family sharing the love with the family dog?

Well, if you come from Eastern Africa you wouldn’t see what I’ve just described. You’d see a woman balancing a box or container on her head, which is how African women often carry water around and you’d see the family sitting around a tree. If you’re a Westerner on the other hand, you’d be more accustomed to indoor architecture, so you’d see a family hanging around a lounge-room and you’d see a window through which a tree can be seen.

This reminded me of a workshop I once ran in Africa where I used black and white photos in a values exercise. I ran the same exercise with a group of people in New Zealand and the interpretations were so very different.

Kim photo

Source: Mighty Optical Illusions.

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