August 2009
Volume 9, Issue 8
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   August 2009
Trapezoidal illusions: Windsurfers versus runways
Author Affiliations
  • George Sperling
    Department of Cognitive Sciences, University of California, Irvine
  • Joetta Gobell
    Nissan Corporation, Gardena CA
  • Chia-huei Tseng
    Department of Psychology, The University of Hong Kong
Journal of Vision August 2009, Vol.9, 691. doi:
  • Views
  • Share
  • Tools
    • Alerts
      This feature is available to authenticated users only.
      Sign In or Create an Account ×
    • Get Citation

      George Sperling, Joetta Gobell, Chia-huei Tseng; Trapezoidal illusions: Windsurfers versus runways. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):691. doi:

      Download citation file:

      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

  • Supplements

We demonstrate here a windsurfer illusion, a naturally occurring trapezoidal illusion in which the small end of a sail viewed at a distance appears to be pointed away from the observer even when it is pointed toward them. This naturally occurring illusion is so compelling that observers are both unaware of their gross perceptual misinterpretation and are unable to perceive the scene veridically. The windsurfer illusion is largely context-free; we demonstrate that context can be critical: the same 2D shape on the different walls, ceiling, or floor of a room produces vastly different shape interpretations. Four experiments further investigate the joint effects of object shape, retinal orientation, head position, relative motion, and the direction of gravity on automatic depth perception of white outline trapezoids rotating back-and-forth on a black background. The trapezoids are perceived as rotating in 3D; observers report the side that appears to be nearest. Left- and right- pointed trapezoids are perceived mirror-equivalently; the longer edge of the trapezoid is reported in front on 74% of trials (traditional trapezoidal illusion, “windsurfer effect”). When the same display is rotated 90 deg to produce a runway retinal configuration, there is striking perceptual asymmetry: the long edge is perceived in front 97% of trials when it is on the bottom but only 43% when it is on top (“runway effect”). The runway effect also occurs when the head is tilted 90 deg or when displays on the ceiling are viewed from the floor. The strikingly different 3D perceptions produced by similar 2D screen trapezoids are quantitatively explained by a model that assumes just three bias factors contribute additively to perception: (1) Implicit linear perspective, (2) assumed viewing from above in head-centered coordinates, and (3) relative height in the retinal field. The model accounts for 93% of the variance of the data.

Sperling, G. Gobell, J. Tseng, C.-h. (2009). Trapezoidal illusions: Windsurfers versus runways [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 9(8):691, 691a,, doi:10.1167/9.8.691. [CrossRef]
 This research was supported in part by AFOSR, Life Science Directorate, Visual Information Processing Program.

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

Sign in or purchase a subscription to access this content. ×

You must be signed into an individual account to use this feature.