Overall, the illusion can be defined as the distorted perception of reality (Jean Piaget, 55). Traditionally, the emphasis is placed on visual or auditory delusions; certainly, such view is quite understandable, because they are the most widespread ones. Nevertheless, such an approach does not reflect all the complexity of this psychological phenomenon. The point is that under certain circumstances each of the five senses (including smell, touch, and taste) may distort reality. Therefore, we can mark out optical, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and taste illusions (Wade, Tavris, 188). Perceptual illusions are so important to psychologists because the knowledge of their mechanisms may advance the study of hypnosis and self-suggestion.
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In their book “Invitation to Psychology”, Carol Tavris and Carole Wade explore the mechanism of illusion. It should be borne in mind that illusion should not be confused with hallucination. The difference between them lies in the following: an illusion is produced by some external factors for instance by the peculiarities of light and shadow, or environmental sounds, whereas hallucination may occur without such external stimuli. Yet, one should not disregard such aspects as persuasion, which means we see what we expect to see. Wade and Tavris refer to it as “subliminal persuasion” (Wade, Tavris, 216).
The authors define perception as “a set of mental operations that organizes sensory signals into meaningful signals” (Wades, Tavris, 186). In their opinion, it is impossible to identify the underlying causes of this physiological phenomenon because it may arise in connection with various factors and they do not necessarily stem only from the peculiarities of our perception.
The scholars provide the following examples of perceptual illusion. As regards the optical ones, they refer to those, which are mostly based on similarity for instance to the intersection of two curved lines that form the letter X (Wades, Tavris, 198). In addition to that, they analyze taste illusions, particularly, those that are caused by our visual images. The scholars state, that very often the taste of food is affected by its color, temperature, and even texture, though, in fact, it remains the same (Wades, Tavris, 206). It is possible to speak about auditory illusions as well. Some of them cannot be even regarded as an illusion such Doppler Effect. Among them, we can single out tinnitus or the shepherding effect (Myers, 244). We may describe such auditory delusion as the phantom words: when hearing separated loudspeakers, people are inclined to construct meaningful phrases or even dialogues though, in fact, the speakers say only separate words that have no connection with each other (Myers, 266).
Apart from that, we cannot overlook the smell or olfactory illusions, which also arise in close connection with other senses. Namely, some graphical images (for example, flowers) may produce certain smell associations, pleasant or unpleasant. In this case, we may speak about the so-called subliminal persuasion (Wade, 250).
These examples illustrate the main meaning of the chapter, the idea that in the vast majority of cases, illusions are created by persuasion or stereotypical thinking. Wade and Tavris believe that very often we base our judgment on the previous experience, and pay no attention to what we sense. The scholars study illusions in close connection with hypnosis and self-suggestion because they are also based on subliminal persuasion. The only difference is that the hypnotist tries to influence cognitive processes (Wade, Tavris, 168).
Therefore, we can conclude that such a psychological phenomenon as illusion is usually caused by external factors, which affect a persons perception of reality, and the so-called subliminal persuasion that also immensely changes our perception. Moreover, illusions may also be spring from the so-called clash of senses, which means that one sense may easily affect another. The mechanisms of illusion lay foundations for self-suggestion and hypnosis.
Carole Wade, Carol Tavris. “Invitation to Psychology” Prentice Hall PTR, 2007.
David G. Myers. “Psychology” Worth Publishers, 2003.
Jean Piaget, Bärbel Inhelder “Jean Piaget: Selected Works”. Routledge, 1998.