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Psychology, Art Professor Wins Artistic Illusion Award in International Contest

Contact: Alan Stubbs, (207) 581-3210; George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

ORONO – Artwork by UMaine psychology and art professor Alan Stubbs recently was selected as one of the 10 best illusions submitted at the international second annual Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest, sponsored by the Neural Correlate Society and held during Vision Sciences Society meeting in Florida.

Stubbs, a member of both art and psychology departments faculty and long time student of photography and new media, uses digital art to help illustrate principles of perception in his psychology classes. Using digital software, Stubbs studies and creates “Mach Bands,” which can create the illusion of both lightness and motion by varying the gradients of light and dark lines, bars or circles through a concept he calls dynamic luminance.

Shaded areas among the bars and lines in his artwork appear to move, grow or shrink, depending upon the distance between a viewer’s eye and the illustration. Striking examples can be seen on Stubbs’s Website at http://www.hutchinsoncenter.umaine.edu/perceive/.

“This is almost like a contrast enhancer that’s going on,” he explains. “You’re seeing something that’s not really there.”

The illusions teach lessons about perception, says Stubbs. “Some textbooks have whole chapters on illusions. We’re talking about the neural coding of the eye. The point with color is we don’t just judge one thing. We have to judge context.”

Illusions might seem to be examples of misperception, but understanding illusions helps us figure how the perceptual process works, he says, noting that perception is a strong influencer of human behavior.

Though educationally useful for illustration, Stubbs says working with software as common as Adobe Photoshop to create illusionary art is just plain fun, and students find it far more entertaining and informative than trying to understand concepts about psychological perception from blackboard drawings.

Stubb’s interest in art, photography and illusions predate the emergence of computers. When software like Photoshop began to develop in the early 1990s, Stubbs put the new technology to work for personal and artistic exploration, and for the classroom. But he never thought of entering contests, he says. When browsing websites and organizations that deal with illusions last spring, Stubbs saw a notice about an illusions contest being held in May by the scholarly Neural Correlate Society. He decided to submit some of his work.

“I sent it off and said, ‘I’ll never get in,’ ” he says. “I was shocked when I made it.”

Not only did he make it, but of hundreds of submissions from universities in placecountry-regionSwitzerland, placecountry-regionJapan, placecountry-regionItaly and elsewhere around the world, Stubb’s work was deemed one of the top 10.

Examples of other entries and winners in the Neural Correlate Society contest are available at the website http://illusioncontest.neuralcorrelate.com/.

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