‘Freaky optical illusion’ distorts faces — only some brains can beat the ‘ugly’


It’s like putting on ugly goggles.

Puzzle lovers are getting the heebie jeebies over this “freaky optical illusion,” which makes people’s faces look hideously distorted. A now-viral video detailing the funhouse mirror-esque effect boasts 1.3 million views as TikTok commenters flip out over seeing people’s ugly side.

[Warning: Spoilers below]

“This optical illusion is honestly a bit scary,” warned video poster Steve Rathe to his 1 million TikTok followers. He then gestured to a plus symbol bookended by two pictures of celebrity faces, instructing viewers to “look directly at the cross in the middle of the screen instead of looking at the faces head-on.”

Indeed, upon staring at the plus sign, the beautiful celebrity faces on either side transform into grotesque martian-esque countenances a la the demonic visages in “Devil’s Advocate.

“What you’re probably noticing if you’re looking at the cross is that the faces look distorted or alien,” Rathe explained of the monstrous metamorphosis. “But these faces have not been altered in any way, they look normal if you look at them head on.”

This altered perception is a result of the “flash-faced distortion effect,” a “striking visual illusion in which faces presented sequentially in peripheral vision begin to look increasingly grotesque after just a few faces have been presented,” per a study in the National Library Of Medicine.

Are you among the select few whose brain can unscramble the visual cues? Keep scrolling for Rathe’s detailed explanation of the phenomenon.

“We have pretty bad peripheral vision,” Rathe detailed in the clip. “So what your brain is probably doing is noticing the differences between the two images and exaggerating so the images look like caricatures.”

While the basis for the phenomenon is yet unclear, scientists are currently analyzing to to glean more insight into how faces are coded in peripheral vision, per the aforementioned study.

The only time viewers will ever see these celebrities looking hideous.
TikTok / @stevepsychology

Needless to say, the trippy party trick blew the minds of the TikTok commentariat. “Wow my mind is twisted,” exclaimed one agog gawker, while another wrote, “ngl, some of the faces were really funny.”

One viewer observed that the “the longer you look, the more exaggerated it gets!”

“Is this why the shadow on my wall looks like a Nightmare Before Christmas Character until I look at it directly?” wondered another.

This altered perception is a result of the “flash-faced distortion effect,” a “striking visual illusion in which faces presented sequentially in peripheral vision begin to look increasingly grotesque after just a few faces have been presented,” per a study in the National Library Of Medicine.
TikTok / @stevepsychology

A similar visual trick, which was posted in May, makes viewers see nonexistent, morphing faces, can be upsetting and scary.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, viewers had their minds figuratively melted by an optical illusion that makes it appear as if the room around the viewer is shrinking.