Across social media, people are testing their creative acumen by staring a century-old optical illusion that asks: is it a duck or a rabbit?
The idea isn’t whether you see a duck first or a rabbit first, but rather how quickly you’re able to switch between the two animals, the Independent reported.
If your eye can easily and swiftly switch back and forth between the two, congratulations — you’re the creative type and have a very efficient brain. If not, well, you’ll just have to give up any dreams of being a famous artist.
There is no clear reason why this old optical illusion has suddenly gone viral, except that someone somewhere recently shared it on social media and the world was collectively enraptured by the illustration.
The image has been circulating for more than 100 years. According to one history about the duck-rabbit drawing, the illusion has its origins in a German humor magazine called Fliegende Blätter, or “Flying Leaves,” in 1892.
The original artist is unknown, and his fascinating dual animal composite came with the caption “Which animals are most like each other?”
A version of the picture ended up in Harper’s Weekly a month later, and then American psychologist Dr. Joseph Jastrow picked it up in 1899 to make a point about perception, a topic he researched extensively during his career.
The three duck-rabbit images — in Flying Leaves, Harper’s, and Jastrow’s image — are all slightly different. The duck bill or rabbit ears, depending on what you see, are oriented differently in each. There’s also a full-body version of the illustration, which is even cooler.
Regardless, Jastrow was making an interesting point in testing the world’s perception with the image. According to Today, the psychologist showed the duck-rabbit picture to test subjects and found that people who were able to flip easily between the two animals could also look at an everyday item and invent five unusual uses for it. Those who had more trouble could only imagine two uses for that same item. His findings were published around the turn of the century.
The good doctor believed that perception isn’t just what someone sees, but a mental activity. He was fascinated with perception and eyesight and contended that the human eye was more intricate than a camera. He also theorized that how the brain processed images was key to how mankind saw and interpreted the world around him. And he used optical illusions — like the duck-rabbit — to press his point.
He also theorized that a person’s emotional state and surroundings influenced what he saw, evidenced by the fact that previous studies have found that people see the rabbit more often during Easter, and the duck in the fall.
A century later, educator Nathan S. Jacobs explained optical illusions in a TED-Ed video, noting that such images reveal the “brain’s job as a busy director of 3D animation in a studio inside your skull,” Tech Times added. The brain assumes certain things about what the eye sees to form “a tailored, edited vision of the world.” It does this not to lie to us, but to reserve cognitive energy and operate efficiently.
The image has endured long after Jastrow made it famous. A children’s book author named Amy Krouse Rosenthal even wrote a book called Duck! Rabbit! based on Jastrow’s picture.
And to be perfectly accurate, the duck-rabbit picture isn’t technically an optical illusion, but an ambiguous, or reversible, one. An illusion shows us what role the unconscious plays in what we see. An ambiguous picture reveals the role expectations, attention, and knowledge of the world around us plays.
So what do you see? A duck or a rabbit?
[Photo via Twitter]