Compare and Contrast

January 6, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Male or female?

Look at the two faces for more than a second and you’ll realize that they are the same.

This bit of androgyny won third place in the Best Visual Illusion of 2009 contest.*

The illusion is that although it’s the same face, the one on the left looks more female, the one on the right more male. The reason is something familiar to all of us who read the make-up tips in Allure, Glamour, etc. We use blush to contour and highlight, to add shape and definition (i.e., the illusion of shape and definition). We use eyeliners in rich colors. And our lipstick, whatever color might suit us best, accents the difference between our mouth and the surrounding area. In a word, we add contrast.

Contrast is the crucial factor in this illusion: more contrast = female; less contrast = male. (Try downloading this .gif into your photo editor and then fool around with the contrast control.)

*Prizes were awarded last May. I discovered it only recently thanks to Brad DeLong’s blog. The original research is by Richard Russell of Harvard: “Russell, R. (2009) A sex difference in facial pigmentation and its exaggeration by cosmetics” Perception, (38)1211-1219.

No comments: