The Vista Paradox: Framing or Contrast?

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The vista paradox is the illusion in which an object seen through a window appears to shrink in apparent size (and appears farther away) as the observer approaches the window. Paradoxically, the distal object appears smaller as its visual angle increases. We investigated the effect in four experiments varying object size, distance, point of fixation, and texture of the frame and of the object. In the first experiment, we tried to confirm the illusion and to test the robustness of the phenomenon. In the second experiment, we manipulated where subjects fixated (on the frame or on the object) as well as the texture of the object and the frame. Fixation was essential for the illusion: fixating the frame led to an apparent shrinking of the object, whereas fixation on the object did not. Texture of the frame intensified the apparent shrinking of the object. In a third experiment, we separated the point of fixation from the frame in a between-subjects design. Finally, in Experiment 4, we showed that the paradox does not require a frame, but it requires a fixation on a location different from the object. That is, the window or frame is dispensable for the vista paradox, but fixation is critical.

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