What This Optical Illusion Reveals About the Human Brain

 A 19th-century optical illusion called a "ambiguous image" shows a rabbit that looks like a duck that looks like a rabbit.  

 The picture, first published in 1892 by a German humor magazine, became popular after Ludwig Wittgenstein used it to demonstrate two ways of perceiving.  

 The image depicts a duck or a rabbit, but not both.  

 Two copies of the illusion make it harder. Expect two ducks.  

 Perhaps two bunnies. Kyle Mathewson, a neuroscientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, says half of individuals can't distinguish a rabbit from a duck at first.  

 To visualize one of each species at once, tell your brain to imagine a duck eating a rabbit.  

 See it now? Mathewson's current study found that context matters when distinguishing two ways of seeing similar images.   

 "Your brain sort of zooms out and can see the big picture when the images are put into context," psychology assistant professor Mathewson said.  

 Syntax matters too. In the study, published online Feb. 5 in Perception, simpler phrases like "Imagine a duck beside a rabbit"  

 didn't work since they didn't tell your brain which figure was the duck and which was the rabbit.  

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