In the Ames room illusion, two people standing in a room appear to be of dramatically different sizes, even though they are the same size.
The effect can be observed in a number of films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Note the early scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring where the effect is prominently used to make Gandalf appear larger than the hobbits.
Here’s how it works:
How does the Ames Room work?
When you look at something, it projects images onto your retinas (the back of your eyeballs). This is called a retinal image.
Generally, if something is:
- far away, it will project smaller images onto your retinas
- nearby, it will project larger images onto your retinas.
Your brain also estimates of how far away an object may be when you’re trying to work out how big something may be.
If you don’t analyse distance and retinal image size, objects would appear to change size wildly and disproportionately as they move closer or further away. This is known as perception of size constancy.
When you look into the Ames Room, your visual system makes the assumption that it is a rectangular room and the two back corners are the same distance away from the peephole.
However, the person in the far back corner projects a smaller image onto your retinas (because they’re further away), while the person standing in the nearest corner projects a larger image onto your retinas.
Because your visual system analyses the larger and smaller retinal images along with the assumption that each person is the same distance away, you come to the conclusion that the person in the (near) corner must be huge!
Our brains can only make the best guess, based on the available evidence!
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