Optical Illusion Simulates Motion-Induced Blindness In Flight

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Photo: Tyler Stableford/Getty Images

Ever drive down a long, dark highway in the middle of the night, only to space out and almost be hypnotized by monotony into a state of drowsiness? My father always taught me to keep looking around when driving, and not just down the road in front of me, in order to keep my mind active and prevent an accident. (It also helps me be on the look out for cops, in case I’ve lost track of how fast I’m driving.)

Looking around while driving in a car is also advice given to pilots when flying in the sky. Since the 1950s, many pilots have been taught to scan the horizon for a short distance, stop momentarily, and then repeat the process. It’s emphasized not fix your gaze for more than a couple of seconds on any one object, for this is the only surefire way to detect if an object — like another nearby aircraft — is coming towards you.

Photo via Prof. Michael Bach Ph.D (michaelbach.de)

But how could someone just miss an oncoming aircraft when sitting in the cockpit, you say? They’re big flying machines after all. Well, there’s a phenomenon known as Motion-Induced Blindness where focusing on one object blocks out any other object in your sight when the surrounding environment is in motion — even if they are right there. Don’t believe me? Check out this Motion-Induced Blindness simulator, created by Prof. Michael Bach Ph.D, who has quite the knack for optical illusions.

The image to the right isn’t the simulator; check out Prof. Bach’s site to stare at the green dot while the grid of blue lines move around. As soon as you maintain a gaze on the center dot, all the other dots magically disappear — but only in your mind.

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