Explaining the footsteps, belly dancer, Wenceslas, and kickback illusions

J Vis. 2006 Dec 12;6(12):1396-405. doi: 10.1167/6.12.5.


The footsteps illusion (FI) demonstrates that an object's background can have a profound effect on the object's perceived speed. This illusion consists of a yellow bar and a blue bar that move over a black-and-white, striped background. Although the bars move at a constant rate, they appear to repeatedly accelerate and decelerate in antiphase with each other. Previously, this illusion has been explained in terms of the variations in contrast at the leading and trailing edges of the bars that occur as the bars traverse the striped background. Here, we show that this explanation is inadequate and instead propose that for each bar, the bar's leading edge, trailing edge, lateral edges, and the surrounding background edges all contribute to the bar's perceived speed and that the degree to which each edge contributes to the motion percept is determined by that edge's contrast. We show that this theory can explain all the data on the FI as well as the belly dancer and Wenceslas illusions. We conclude by presenting a new illusion, the kickback illusion, which, although geometrically similar to the FI, is mediated by a different mechanism, namely, reverse phi motion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Color
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Dancing
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Optical Illusions / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation