That doesn’t mean they can’t be fooled! While Fridays are generally the day the VisualCrew sets aside to honor the best and brightest data visualizations on the Internet this week we’re taking a break and focusing on something that is kind of necessary for any data visualization- the power of sight.

We’ve written pretty extensively about the power of the human visual system to decode patterns and spot differences based on color and shape (see here and here especially). But did you know that a clever illusionist can take that same power and use it to pull of some pretty incredible tricks?

The Flash-Lag Effect

The first optical illusion comes to us courtesy of Bite Size Psych, and is well worth the almost four minutes it takes to watch it all.

The great thing about this visualization is that it doesn’t just show us cool optical tricks, but takes the time to explain some of the science and the power behind our visual system (the brain’s biased set of rules, as the video calls it.)

Our favorite illusion from the video above? The description of the flash-lag effect. According to the video the time that it takes a visual signal to be decoded by the brain is 80 milliseconds (though some recent research has shown it to be as little as 13.) While that is clearly enough time for the flash-lag effect to be observed (as you can see in the video) that is still an impressively fast  system. Try decoding an entire spreadsheet in 80ms.

Fill in the Blanks

In spite of the speed and power of your visual systems, some clever trickery can make you think that you are seeing things that just aren’t there, as almost every demonstration in this video shows.


While we appreciate that the creators took some time to explain to us why our eyes were playing games with us (the different colored boxes illusions had us especially amazed) these parlor tricks did remind us about a crucial factor in any data visualization- our brains want to fill in missing information.

Just listen to the explanation for many of the tricks in the video above: our brains naturally want to fill in the missing pieces and put everything into a unified whole. These illusions work because you don’t have a choice in the matter, your brain instinctually wants to fill in missing information and draw some conclusions based on what it’s seeing. What we’ve done at VisualCue is found a way to harness that power not for optical tricks, but for an intuitive understanding of data sets.

Until next time,

The VisualCrew