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Motion-induced blindness in normal observers


Cases in which salient visual stimuli do not register consciously are known to occur in special conditions, such as the presentation of dissimilar stimuli to the two eyes1 or when images are stabilized on the retina2. Here, we report a striking phenomenon of ‘visual disappearance’ observed with normal-sighted observers under natural conditions. When a global moving pattern is superimposed on high-contrast stationary or slowly moving stimuli, the latter disappear and reappear alternately for periods of several seconds. We show that this motion-induced blindness (MIB) phenomenon is unlikely to reflect retinal suppression, sensory masking or adaptation. The phenomenology observed includes perceptual grouping effects, object rivalry and visual field anisotropy. This is very similar to that found in other types of visual disappearance, as well as in clinical cases of attention deficits, in which partial invisibility might occur despite the primary visual areas being intact3. Disappearance might reflect a disruption of attentional processing, which shifts the system into a winner-takes-all mode, uncovering the dynamics of competition between object representations within the human visual system.

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Figure 1: Typical stimuli used to measure the motion-induced blindness (MIB) effect and typical data showing its magnitude.
Figure 2: The effects of different parameters on the motion-induced blindness phenomenon.
Figure 3: Gestalt effects reflected in the motion-induced blindness phenomena.
Figure 4: Co-operation and rivalry of non-overlapping stimuli under MIB conditions.


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We thank J. D. Mollon for recently drawing our attention to the work of Grindley and Townsend13. We thank E. Freeman, B. Zenger, S. Gepshtein, H. Reed, J. Pettigrew and M. Merzenich for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Yoram S. Bonneh.

Supplementary information

This demo demonstrates several properties of the Motion Induced Blindness (MIB) phenomenon. It is implemented as a set of GIF animation and can only be appreciated if the apparent motion appears smooth or almost smooth. In general, fixate in the center or lower part of the screen without moving the eyes, pay attention to the moving pattern and observe what happens to the static yellow dots. For better results, download an executable version of the demo, available for Linux x86 and Windows systems. The demo is best perceived in the dark.


  • Basic effect

  • Target luminance: Low, High

  • Target movement: Slow, Fast

  • Target dynamics: Flicker, Local rotation

  • Target size

  • The spatial extent: "Protection zones"

  • Mask properties: 3D slow, 2D, 1D, Noise, Few dots

Gestalt Effects

  • Contour smoothness: Smooth, Jagged

  • Proximity: High, Low

  • Object competition: Ellipses, Triangles

  • Gabor competition & cooperation: Collinear, Orthogonal

Links to mini website with demonstrations of the illusions and downloadable .exe files (ZIP 9 MB)

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Bonneh, Y., Cooperman, A. & Sagi, D. Motion-induced blindness in normal observers. Nature 411, 798–801 (2001).

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