PIA at Explore Your Universe!

“I don’t believe my brain!” Guests of all ages were shocked by the tricks their brains played on them during PIA’s Psychology and the Brain exhibition at UCLA’s 9th annual Explore Your Universe (EYU) science festival. The event brought in over 7,000 Los Angeles community members eager to see science come to life through hands-on activities, demonstrations and interactive experiments.

Visual illusions continued to be the fan favorite at the PIA exhibit. Illustrating how what we see (and what we don’t see) is governed by the brain, the PIA outreach team captivated guests by the (in)abilities of the brain. Just as we may take short cuts when driving to work, our brain similarly takes short cuts. While our brain’s shorts cuts (such as grouping stimuli together) may be very beneficial for quick information processing, optical illusions demonstrate what happens when these short cuts become problematic.

As an example, on first glance the top and bottom chess pieces depicted in Figure 1 appear to be different colors. This color contrast is detected by our brain using the background as reference: The top pieces appear much lighter than their background, while the bottom pieces appear much darker than their background – thus, they must be different colors. Although such a short cut may be adaptive in everyday life (e.g., in low lighting preferentially detecting contrast prevents you from running into things), in this example where the chess pieces are actually identical, it can lead to some faulty conclusions (see Figure 2).

                        Figure 1: Which of these chess pieces is darker?                       Figure 2: The chess pieces are identical! 

                        Figure 1: Which of these chess pieces is darker?                       Figure 2: The chess pieces are identical! 


Following the visual illusions, guests were guided through drawing their own brain and a host of other activities including Walter Mischel’s marshmallow test, mindful eating, change blindness and “guess that brain!”

All in all, the event was a huge success and we are looking forward to EYU 2018!

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