Reaction times and perceptual adjustments are sensitive to the illusory distortion of space

Silvia Savazzi, Barbara Emanuele, Paige Scalf, Diane Beck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Oppel-Kundt illusion (OKI) consists of the perception of a filled space as larger than an empty space of the same size. Here, we used a modified version of that illusion composed of a gradient of vertical lines whose spacing decreased progressively from one side to the other: space is expected to be perceived as larger where the lines are more compressed. We tested the hypothesis that a horizontal stimulus presented in a space perceived as larger will produce faster RTs by asking forty-four healthy subjects to respond as quickly as possible to lateralized stimuli (horizontal bars, vertical bars and circles) presented on different backgrounds (control condition: evenly spaced vertical lines or an empty space; illusory conditions: vertical lines progressively compressed to the right or the left). Subjects' RTs were reliably faster for horizontal stimuli presented on the space perceived as larger than on the space perceived as smaller. To verify that this effect was actually due to a size illusion, the same subjects were asked to adjust the size of the stimuli presented on the same backgrounds as to make them equal to a reference stimulus. For horizontal stimuli, subjects produced adjustments in accordance with the predicted effect of the illusion. Together, these data show that the OKI produces a distortion of space that extends to stimuli placed in front of it and that RTs are influenced by the perceived and not the physical size of the stimuli. Implications for neural bases of illusions and for spatial neglect are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-128
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Oppel-Kundt illusion
  • Space anisometry hypothesis
  • Space distortion
  • Spatial neglect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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