15 Optical Illusions That Are So Puzzling, They'll Make Your Head Hurt

Optical illusion. Visual fallacy. Hallucination? Eh, maybe hallucination is too strong a word, but everyone has had the mind-bending experience of looking at an optical illusion at some point in his or her life, regardless of whether or not substances were involved (by the way kids, don’t do drugs). Some illusions are trippy, some frustrating, (we're looking at you, autostereograms), and some are genuinely amazing and eye-opening. Some of these illusions will hopefully not make your brain hurt too badly, but they’re fascinating examples of how the human brain can feel like a deer in headlights when processing unusual images. These illusions incorporate color, impossible structures, 3D elements, etc., so there’s a variety here for everyone to sink their teeth, or their eyes if that would even work, into. So let’s dive in, shall we?

15 Elephant with many legs

Via: Science Bob

Eight-legged elephants are typically hard to find, but it seems that the artist of this illustration, Roger Shepard, has seen one in his mind’s eye. Let’s see, 1…2…3…4…5…wait, that’s not a leg. Or is it? Right out of the gates, this illusion is a classic example of “wait, what?” What makes it so difficult to figure out is the shading, which is masterfully done. There are shadows at the top of some of the legs where they’re supposed to meet the elephant’s body, but then when you look down, there is no foot attached. It’s not that its leg is missing a foot, but there is no leg there to begin with! The limbs that do have feet have no shading where they meet the body, so are those legs even attached to the body? We’re starting off with a classic, but it remains an undeniably effective illusion.

14 The dress

Via: Business Insider

Ah, remember this one? Behold, the infamous dress that captured the imagination of millions and frustrated them in the process. This one is relatively recent, but its legacy for being a mind-bending optical illusion is one for the books. So was it black and blue or white and gold? Even though it seems that science has gotten to the bottom of this, there are still those out there that are on one side or the other. What’s even more frustrating to a lot of the debaters is how wishy-washy they seem to find themselves. “Well, I guess it looks black and blue, but I could understand if people see white and gold. I just don’t know anymore!” There is another color-based illusion on the list that we will talk about, so prepare for potentially another dispute.

13 Autostereogram


For some of us, the first optical illusion we were ever exposed to was the autostereogram. Remember those books in elementary school that you would stare at for hours because you couldn’t figure out what you were looking at or how the thing even worked? Scientists say that there are cases where people are unable to see the 3D image, but for those who just aren’t sure how it works, here is some advice: look past the image and make the patterns line up. When your eyes are unfocused in the right place, you will see a 3D image. Try it and see if you can find out what image is hiding inside this one. There are also animated autostereograms for those who are comfortable with how the illusion is done.

12 Profile face

Via: Illusions.org

Now that we’ve got some of the classics out of the way, let’s check out this next one, which is destined to be a classic itself, and can take a bit of work to figure out as well. Is this guy looking at us or is he facing our right? It makes sense either way you look at it, doesn’t it? Somehow, the artist has managed to give us an illusion so mind-bending that the more you look at it, the more your brain starts to play a demented game of tug-o-war. Is anyone experiencing cognitive dissonance over this one? You can’t be blamed for it. Look at how the lips, forehead, and eyes are masterfully manipulated to make us believe that they’re either a front or side profile. Regardless of what conclusion you come to, this would probably make a pretty cool sculpture, wouldn’t it?

11 Jesus face

Via: List 25

Regardless of whether or not you are religious, this is a really interesting illusion that kind of makes you wonder how some of these artists figured all this stuff out. This may not make your brain hurt, but it’s pretty cool indeed. In order to get this one to work, stare at those dots in the middle of the image for around 30 to 60 seconds. Make sure you’re focused and not looking away. Afterwards, close your eyes and put your face up to a window if it’s a sunny day. If not, put your face up to something bright, but keep your eyes closed. If all goes the way it should, you should see an image of Jesus, although it could pass for Rob Zombie, the drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd or even Jared Leto if he ever rocks the hipster Jesus look again at around age 60.

10 Great impossible arch

Via: Brain Den

“I STAND CORRECTED” Ah, I see what you did there! A brilliant man designed this next illusion. His name is Roger Shepard and he is also responsible for the elephant illusion. Although there are other illusions that share the same idea as this one, it stands out for sheer cleverness and it’s just simple enough to not cause any massive headaches when looked at. In the world of optical illusions, this one falls under the category of “Impossible Objects” which is quite similar to the elephant drawing. Looking at this one, it’s hard to tell how anyone would be able to pass underneath the structure. Would you walk straight and under where it says “I STAND CORRECTED” or would you walk through, coming from the side where the two smaller openings are. Does any of it make sense? Nope, but that’s the fun of it.

9 Are these the same colour eyes?

Via: Brain Bashers

Here’s one for fans of the dress debate. Are this woman’s eyes the same color? First, we have to ask what color we are looking for. On the red side they look blue, but on the black and white side, they look a bit grey, suitably with the black and white photography. But is the red having any influence over the color we perceive her eyes to be? If I could help you out a bit, I would suggest covering the right side of the photograph to cover the black and white photo. Study the red side and this illusion might be a bit easier to tackle, and you may avoid any contentious moments with your friends and family. Though if we all made through the dress debate, I think we’ll get through this one, too.

8 Trippy AF

Via: Gizmodo

Welcome to the 1960s, kids. Okay, so we swear this is not some kind of GIF animation, and we can’t guarantee that you’re not hallucinating right now, but this illusion is one of the trippiest ones you’ll come across. The image relies on its colors and placement of shapes to give the viewer a taste of the psychedelic experience without the use of substances or anything of that nature. No matter where you look in the image, it seems to be moving somewhere else, almost like those squiggly floaters that you see in your eye from time to time, but just a little different and more enjoyable. Who likes chasing those squiggly line floater things anyway? It is highly recommended that you listen to Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix records while looking at this particular illusion. It, shall we say, enhances the experience.

7 The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Via: List 25

Everyone knows that the Leaning Tower of Pisa, well…leans. But look at these two images. Which one seems to be leaning? Most would say that the image on the right is the one that seems to be leaning the most, but in reality, these two photographs are exactly the same. This isn’t just a phenomenon with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If you were to put two different landmarks side by side, one of them will appear to be leaning. Somehow though, it’s hard to come up with a landmark that has the same ring to it as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so thankfully the name worked out with the circumstance. The Leaning Tower of the Washington Monument? Eh. Stay upright so we can avoid that. This illusion goes to show how images can appear different based off of how they are placed in relation to one another.

6 Albert Monroe

via: 123opticalillusions.com

While there are so many distinctly iconic figures in the world, you would never think that Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe would be mistaken for one another…until now. At close range, this image looks unmistakably like Albert Einstein. The crazy hair, the moustache, and the puppy dog eyes are just too recognizable to deny. Now distance yourself about 15 feet from the image and you will start to see Albert Einstein morph into none other than the great Marilyn Monroe. Isn’t the contrast amazing? This isn’t an illusion that will “make your brain hurt” per se, but it’s one that will definitely make you wonder how the creators of this illusion were able to pull it off. This is a great illusion to show your grandparents or someone who has an interest in either of these equally iconic figures.

5 Man or woman

Via: Braingle.com

If you’re reading this and you’re a cartoon artist, you may have gotten this illusion figured out right off the bat. While there are many optical illusions that are similar to this one, the great thing about looking at an image that offers two different perspectives is the contrast that can happen between the two images. At first glance, most would interpret this image as the face of a woman, but for you cartoonists and artists out there, there is an unmistakable silhouette of a man playing a saxophone. Once the brain picks up on this, it’s impossible to turn off the unstoppable switch between the woman’s face and the man with the saxophone. A fun thing to do might be to introduce this image to someone as a guy playing a saxophone and seeing if his or her brain recognizes the woman’s face regardless.

4 Disappearing dots

Via: Unrealitymag.com

Have you ever wished that you could make something disappear? Guess what? You can. You don’t need an expensive magic kit or a contract saying that you’ll keep your mouth shut when a master magician tells you one of his or her secrets. No, you just have to stare at the plus sign in the middle of this grey box here and wait. Literally that’s it. Once you get a few seconds in, you’ll start to see all those little pink dots start to disappear. You’ve done it. You’re officially a magician! Not really, but it is pretty cool seeing those pink circles seem to vanish into the grey of the box as your eyes try to keep focus on that cross in the middle.

3 Trippy AF reprise

Via: Unrealitymag.com

Okay, so we have another 1960s flashback for you, and no, this is one is not a GIF either. This is a bit of a variation on the trippy, moving images category in the optical illusion world. There really isn’t much else to say about this gem other than it being a safe alternative to hallucinogenic drugs and an enjoyable few seconds of eye candy. When looking into the center of the image, it seems to be expanding and contracting at the same time. For you film fans out there, it gives a similar effect that a dolly zoom would, but somehow, they’ve managed to pull it off in still form. Once again, kids, stick with the vitamin supplements and look at the illusions on this list when you’re feeling bohemian and you’ll be okay.

2 Grey bar

Via: viralnova.com

Colors seem to be one of the best tools that illusion artists use to trick our brains. This next image is amazing in that the bar in the middle is all one color. If you don’t believe us, screenshot it if you’re using a computer and you’ll see that the picture you’ve taken is all the same shade of grey. This one is so extreme in its deception, that even we would have considered putting money on the possibility that there is at least a little bit of color manipulation within that grey slot that’s in the middle. What’s really going on in this illusion is that the background dictates how the brain perceives the bar in the middle. When an illusion is so deceiving it can make you consider betting money on it, it’s time to reconsider the truth in everything you know and see.

1 Grey tiles

Via: viralnova.com

If this one doesn’t make you throw your hands in the air and walk out of the room, we don’t know what will. Would you believe us if we told you that these two tiles are the exact same color? Of course you wouldn’t. Actually, after going through this entire list, we're sure that nothing should surprise you at this point, so if you believe us, we can’t blame you. Looking at this image though, it’s clear that the top tile seems to be the darker of the two. Now, put your finger in the middle, separating the two tiles. Crazy, right? That’s because the white at the top of the bottom tile gives off the illusion of a shadow. There are a vast amount of illusions dealing with shades of grey, but this is one of the more popular and mind-bending out of all of them.

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