An old wives’ tale says that if a young unmarried woman carries a candle into a dark room and looks in the mirror on Halloween night, she’ll see the face of her future husband. The Troxler Effect tells us we can see something far worse.
In a 2010 experiment by Dr. Giovanni Caputo at the University of Urbino, 50 test subjects were told to watch their own reflections in low light for 10 minutes. 33 subjects reported seeing massive deformations of their own face. People reported seeing their faces transform into one of their parents’, animal faces, or monsters after just ten minutes of observation. These changes would last for seven seconds on average, and the deformations didn’t stay put in one place. The longer their brains got accustomed to the same image, the more fictional information bled into their perception. For most of the subjects, these effects began in about a minute.
It makes sense to filter out extraneous sensory perceptions; there’s no reason for your body to constantly be conscious of the contact lenses in your eyes, your clothes against your skin, or the way your tongue rests inside your mouth. Our eyes constantly make micro-vibrations so that we don’t filter out visual information as easily as we can ignore a repetitive noise or pervasive smell. But if you stare long enough, the Troxler Effect starts to take form.
Dr. Caputo’s experiment is easy to replicate. First, get comfy in front of a mirror. Make sure you can see the details and fine lines of your face, but that the light is low enough that it’s hard to see color. Make sure the light source is not visible in the mirror so that the only thing you’re focusing on is yourself.
Then just wait.