© 2009 Richard RussellThe winners of the 5th annual Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest have just been announced and the results are all together trippy. However, the third place illusion by Richard Russell of Harvard really stuck with me.
In the Illusion of Sex, two faces are perceived as male and female. However, both faces are actually versions of the same androgynous face. One face was created by increasing the contrast of the androgynous face, while the other face was created by decreasing the contrast. The face with more contrast is perceived as female, while the face with less contrast is perceived as male. The Illusion of Sex demonstrates that contrast is an important cue for perceiving the sex of a face, with greater contrast appearing feminine, and lesser contrast appearing masculine.Richard's work on the perception of faces and the artificial enhancement of gender using contrast is really interesting. His research finds that while contrast is an important cue for how we determine sex, enhancement of that contrast has the opposite effect on the perceived attractiveness of men and women. Lowering the contrast makes men less attractive and raising it makes women more attractive. This bias is exploited—and reinforced—by the cosmetic industry, photo-editors and marketers in the overly-retouched photographs found in magazines, newspaper and advertising.