Do You See What I See: Using Optical and Visual Illusions to Illustrate Perception

This page authored by Michelle B. Kunz, Morehead State University, based on MERLOT material: 61 Optical Illusions & Visual Phenomena,, Michael Bach author
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In this activity, students view a collection of visual illusions, often referred to as optical illusions, seeing for themselves, that individuals do truly see some things differently—or not at all. While showing a collection of graphic illusions, individuals may or may not see the intended final visual. As a result the class as a whole serves as a convenience sample of potential consumers/customers who might, or might not see what was intended on the part of a marketer.

Learning Goals

This in-class activity demonstrates how individuals process stimuli differently. Students will learn:

  1. that perception is unique to the individual,
  2. to identify similarities and differences in their individual perceptual reactions to different visual stimuli, and
  3. to synthesize how individual perceptual differences can affect information processing and response to stimuli.

Context for Use

Perception is a concept integral to understanding how individuals process stimuli and information. This concept relates to many areas in marketing, but in particular the concept is discussed in detail in consumer behavior and advertising classes. While students often say they understand that individuals can and do perceive ("process") things differently, this in-class activity provides an opportunity to engage students with the material that easily demonstrates differences among individuals.

Description and Teaching Materials

Any class lecture covering perception can be enhanced with a quick "break" from the theoretical discussion that takes a "hands-on" approach with an in-class demonstration. After introducing the concept and theories related to perception, from a consumer behavior and/or advertising perspective, perception relates directly to how individuals process information, and thus the overall meaning an individual assigns to a stimulus. The sites listed below can provide some good examples of optical illusions and visual phenomenon. You will have to preview them before using them in class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Selection of visuals to use in this exercise might be important, if there are specific applications students should relate to the discussion of perception. For example, if the discussion relates to advertising and visuals used in advertising, visuals that use motion and/or color might be more important. If the course relates to how individuals process information and develop knowledge, then the instructor might want to select visuals that individuals see differently, and thus the overall impression and stimulus received differs for individuals. In the end, these individuals have processed the item differently, and have a different knowledge base/perspective.

Size of the class, and the room in which it is delivered should be considered. If this is a really large lecture class, students can be divided into small, impromptu groups to participate in discussion both during and after the presentation. If the room does not have a high-quality projector, or if ambient room light interferes with clear projection, the room may need to be darkened to provide the greatest level of contrast for the presentation.

Encourage students to informally respond to what they see, either to the small class as-a-whole, or within the smaller groups, if this is a large lecture class. This open and free response and reaction provides the greatest insights into just how individuals view and perceive these visuals.


While no formal assessment is used with this activity, student groups could be formed to brainstorm for a few minutes following the demonstration/presentation, about ways this might be relevant to a specific topic relevant to the class/subject matter. For example, one question students might consider:

  • How would you review the graphics and other visuals used in a television advertisement, based upon what you just viewed?
  • Another question which will relate this specific subject matter: If you saw an old man, and your group members saw a beautiful young woman, how would that influence what meaning individuals might assign to a product using such a visual on the package?

References and Resources