Experiments revealed honeybees also get tricked by a classic optical illusion

Whether you see them in newspaper or someone shares it with you on the internet, optical illusions are great. But why do they work so well for humans? How a simple static Picture can trick human mind into thinking we are seeing something else? Scientists from RMIT University have used honeybees to shed new light on the matter.

Which of the orange circles is bigger? Even bees can’t always tell with perfect accuracy. Image credit: Phrood~commonswiki via Wikimedia

Scientists trained honeybees to react to the classic Ebbinghaus illusion, which makes two identical circles look different in size by placing some smaller or larger circles around them. Humans are not the only ones seeing the illusion – some dolphins and even birds get tricked as well. However, not all humans react the same – one remote community in Namibia does not experience this illusion to the same extent as Westerners, but we don’t know why that is. That is where the honeybee comes in, because it is ideal model for visual perception research and the Ebbinghaus illusion looks a bit like a flower as well.

Scientists found that distance between the eyes and the illusion is key in this kind of eye-mind tricks. Those bees that were allowed to fly freely got tricked in a similar fashion to dolphins and humans. However, those that were restrained from flying did not experience the illusion as strongly. Scarlett Howard, leader of the research, said: “Since humans see such illusions, and we are very good at complex vision (like driving a car), we suspect illusion perception to be part of higher level processing of relationships. From the current study we now know this is not something special to primate cortex; but must be wider spread in biological vision”. This research also helps explaining how bees select flowers, based on visual clues.

These findings are not only significant in a sense that they allow for better understanding about human perception of optical illusions, but they could also be useful for creating better machine vision systems. Currently machine vision development is not as fast as it could be and a closer look into natural systems, such as visual perception of honeybees, could help accelerating machine vision research. This could benefit robots, artificial intelligence facial recognition and other security systems.

It is interesting to know that optical illusions are visible for other species as well. For you it may be just a Saturday morning entertainment, but for scientists it is a quest for better machine vision systems and understanding of how human visual perception evolved.

 

Source: RMIT University

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