Testing the tilt-constancy theory of visual illusions

Peter Wenderoth*, Darren Burke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Prinzmetal and Beck (2001) Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 27 206-217) argued that a subset of visual illusions is caused by the same mechanisms that are responsible for the perception of vertical and horizontal - a theory they referred to as the tilt-constancy theory of visual illusions. They argued that these illusions should increase if the observer's head or head and body are tilted because extra reliance would then be placed on the illusion-inducing local visual context. Exactly that result had previously been reported in the case of the tilted-room and the rod-and-frame illusions. Prinzmetal and Beck reported similar increases in the tilt illusion (TI), as well as the Zöllner, Poggendorff, and Ponzo illusions. In two experiments, we re-examined the effect of head tilt on the TI. In experiment 1, we used more conventional TI stimuli, more standard experimental methods, and a more complete experimental design than Prinzmetal and Beck, and additionally extended the investigation to attraction as well as repulsion effects. Experiment 2 more closely replicated the Prinzmetal and Beck stimuli. Although we found that head tilt did increase TIs in both experiments, the increases were of the order of 1°-2°, more modest than the 7° reported by Prinzmetal and Beck. Significantly, the TI increase was larger when inducing tilts and head tilts were in the same direction than when they were in opposite directions, suggesting that the tilt-constancy theory may be oversimplified. In addition, because previous evidence renders unlikely the claim that the Poggendorff illusion can be explained simply in terms of misperceived orientation of the transversals, the question arises whether there might be some other explanation for the increase in the Zöllner, Poggendorff, and Ponzo illusions with body tilt that Prinzmetal and Beck reported.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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