This Optical Illusion Has Everyone Seeing A Different Number

Daniel Mitchell-Benoit
An eye chart.
Unsplash | Wesley Tingey

Did you ever have an optical illusion phase when you were younger? I sure did, pouring through books and websites full of 'em. It was a great way to make myself feel smarter than everyone else even though I was, like, nine.

Every so often, one particular illusion will make the rounds online and put us all to the test yet again as adults.

A recent post has Twitter in a frenzied state.

From an account named Benonwine comes an image of a circle containing warped black and white stripes. Benonwine asks if we see a number in that circle, and if so, what number.

I do see a number, but it's not the same one that everyone else sees.

An optical illusion spiral.
twitter | @benonwine

I first saw 45283. Imagine my surprise when I saw some replies saying the number is 3452839, and some saying they only saw 528. If we're all seeing something different, which group is right?

Turns out, the longest number is the correct answer.

The way the circle is warped makes the first and last number harder to see, at least for me, but the user in the tweet above discovered a trick that shows the absolute truth.

So, what does it mean if you didn't see 3452839?

First of all, don't worry, you're not alone.

The replies were full of other confused people who couldn't figure out why they weren't getting the full picture. Some even came up with strategies that allowed them to see the full number a bit easier without needing to fully blur their phone screen, like Barb who said she only needs to scroll up and down quickly for the bigger number to reveal itself.

Turns out this illusion is a measure of contrast sensitivity.

A brown eye.
Unsplash | Alexandre Debiève

Contrast sensitivity is one's ability to differentiate an object from the background behind it, an ability that can become stronger or weaker depending on the background and a person's eyesight.

The circle in the illusion features different types of backgrounds as the stripes warp, meaning some numbers become harder to read for some people.

So what if you didn't see the full number? Is that bad?

An eye chart.
Unsplash | Wesley Tingey

I wouldn't say bad, at least not in the sense that you should rush to your local optometrist if you got the same answer I did. However, if you only see one or maybe none of the numbers, that should raise some concern and it might be worth getting checked out, as extremely low contrast sensitivity can be dangerous.

However, this isn't meant as a serious vision test.

Clear-framed glasses on a laptop.
Unsplash | K8

Don't take your ability to parse an illusion as gospel here! This is just another photo designed to get the internet all riled up and give us that same chance to feel smarter because our eyes work better.

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