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The Hermann Grid Visual Illusion

How many col­ors do you see in this image?

Hermann Grid

While there are really only two col­ors in the grid, the high con­trast black and white areas fool the eyes into per­ceiv­ing a gray cir­cle at each inter­sec­tion. The illu­sion results from reti­nal cells adjust­ing the bright­ness of an image by adjust­ing the inten­sity of the light sig­nal in many small sec­tions, which allows you to see a wide range of both bright and dark details in the same image, unlike a com­puter mon­i­tor or TV screen that has one bright­ness set­ting for the entire image.

Retina Anatomy The size of these small sec­tions is deter­mined by the size of neural recep­tive fields in the retina. The fovea, an area near the cen­ter of your retina with the high­est res­o­lu­tion vision, has the small­est recep­tive fields and the high­est num­ber of pho­tore­cep­tor cells. Areas of your retina ded­i­cated to periph­eral vision have larger recep­tive fields, and there­fore, lower res­o­lu­tion view­ing. Inhibitory lat­eral con­nec­tions between cells in the periph­eral retina help deter­mine the edges of the rough shapes per­ceived with the low res­o­lu­tion periph­eral sight. These lat­eral con­nec­tions turn down brightness.

In the Her­mann Grid, the inter­sec­tion that you are look­ing directly at (orange cir­cle) falls onto the fovea, which has very lit­tle lat­eral inhi­bi­tion due to the small recep­tive field and high con­cen­tra­tion of pho­tore­cep­tors. Our per­cep­tion within this area is fairly accu­rate, and we see the area as either white or light gray. In the area within the green cir­cle, the dark and light areas are bal­anced, so no gain adjust­ment is needed, and we see this area as white. At the periph­eral inter­sec­tions (pur­ple cir­cle), most of the recep­tive field is flooded with white light, caus­ing strong lat­eral inhi­bi­tion which results in reduced gain and an area that appears gray.

Hermann Grid Explanation


PS: Enjoy these 50 brain teasers to test your cog­ni­tive abil­ity. Free, and fun for adults of any age!

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18 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    is black a color?

  2. Caroline says:

    Ben —

    Good ques­tion. The answer is “depends”.

    Almost all vis­i­ble col­ors are cre­ated using one of two sys­tems of pri­mary colors.

    Trans­mit­ted col­ors (RGB) use red, green and blue. Color dis­plays use red, green, and blue pix­els for the dis­play screen. In this sys­tem, col­ors are added to cre­ate white and sub­tracted to cre­ate black.

    Reflected col­ors (CMY) use cyan (light blue), magenta (purplish-red), and yel­low. Color print­ing uses CMY (col­ors are sub­tracted to cre­ate white but added to make black). In the­ory, equal parts of cyan, magenta and yel­low ink make black, but the blacks tend to be muddy. Thus, a pure black fourth ink is always used in the four color CMYK process (K for blacK).

    So, black can be all col­ors or the lack of color! It depends if you are reflect­ing or transmitting.

  3. […] Car­o­line Latham presents The Her­mann Grid Visual Illu­sion posted at Sharp­Brains: Your Win­dow into the Brain Fit­ness Rev­o­lu­tion, say­ing, “A cool visual illusion.” […]

  4. r says:

    black and white are shades. there­fore, i see no colours.

  5. jeremy says:

    black white and grey.….3 colors

  6. miss says:

    that didnt work for me, i could only see the black and white.

  7. Julie Ann. says:

    i can see 3 colors.

  8. Theofanis says:

    two colours, the grey is not on the paper, your mind cre­ates by the com­bi­na­tion of black and white

  9. Katie says:

    in all tech­ni­cal­lity, there are no “col­ors” in the field. There are 3 shades, black, gray and white. I didn’t see the gray until I read on about it. It was there but I just didn’t real­ize it was a part on the question.

  10. catiana271 says:

    Looks like the total absence of color and all the col­ors to me
    (black and white)
    I don’t see the gray

  11. Jake says:

    Black is not a color.… its the absense of color… so there are 2 col­ors visible

  12. Spin says:

    I see grey when i relax my eyes

  13. Spin says:

    I also see orange, red and green dots in the white inter­sec­tion points

  14. iyana says:

    i said there are 3

  15. wil says:

    its lil­boo in i think this is crazy

  16. Deepthi says:


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