Look at the picture embedded below – how many dots can you see all at once? We bet the number wouldn’t exceed 3 or 4 if you’re a good squinter!

Hold your breath because there are a total of 12 black dots in this picture!

While you probably failed this dot-spotting exercise, the good news (if we could call it that) is that you are not alone! This optical illusion became exceedingly popular on the internet after Will Kerslake, a game developer, shared it on Twitter! The original picture can be traced back to the Facebook page of Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a psychology professor from Kyoto, Japan.

So, why is it that we can’t see all the 12 dots at once? Here’s what science has to say:

It’s Not You, It’s Your Eyes!

You are not able to see the dots all at once because of a phenomenon called “lateral inhibition”. Our eyes have plenty of light-sensing nerve cells that are waiting to be stimulated. Once stimulated, the excited nerves try to “calm” the neighboring nerves – this can be analogous to the situation in which a room full of people shouts a message out, when instead the message would be a lot clearer if there were fewer people shouting it out.

Hence, when visual contrast goes up, everything we are not directly looking at gets “muted” and our brains try to fill in that incomplete information with whatever it guesses is there. In this case, since most of this picture is grey lines, our brains just leave out the black dots.

So there you go – you’re not going crazy or visually challenged! There really are 12 dots, but our eyes and brains do strange things sometimes to help us focus better.

I Am Able To See More Dots. I Must Be More Intelligent. Right?

Simply put, wrong! Being able to see more dots cannot be linearly equated to being more intelligent. Maybe you just have a different level of lateral inhibition, or maybe your brain is better at filling in the gaps than everyone else’s.

Optical illusions are always fun! Sometimes they help us test ourselves, while at other times they remind us that no matter what we choose to believe, our brain does place limits on us. At most times, they are simply a great way to kill some time, especially when you’re not in the mood for work after your year end festivities!

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December 4, 2017

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