Why Is This Viral Image of Unrecognizable Objects So Creepy?

Live Science | 4/25/2019 | Staff
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What do you see in this image? Viewers are finding it virtually impossible to identify any of the almost-familiar objects in the picture — and it's freaking them out.

Twitter user @melip0ne shared the image on Tuesday (April 22) with this challenge: "Name one thing in this photo." It has since generated thousands of bewildered replies and outlandish guesses.

Image - Viewers - Comments - Thx - Sanity

The image isn't just stumping viewers; it's also making some of them very uneasy, leading to comments such as "i feel so uncomfortable," "This stresses me out" and "Thx losing my sanity now."

Trying to interpret an ambiguous image like this sparks uncertainty, which can lead to feeling "creeped-out," Dr. Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, told Live Science in an email.

Person - Something - Sense - Unease - McAndrew

When a person is unsure if something could be harmful, it's normal to experience a sense of unease, McAndrew said. But clearly this image doesn't pose a threat, so what's going on?

"We also can get creeped out by confusing things that press competing buttons in our brain, making it hard for us to categorize or understand what we are looking at," he said.

Matter - Brain - Tries - Sense - Image

No matter how much your brain tries to make sense of the image, it just won't resolve into something familiar; this further intensifies feelings of discomfort, Dr. Steven Schlozman, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Live Science in an email.

"I think the creepiness comes from our brains' attempts at recognizing a pattern, zeroing in on that pattern, and then having the expected pattern continually disrupted by another recognizable pattern," Schlozman said.

Chimp - Photo - Something - Something - Puzzle

"I swear I see a chimp in that photo. But then it becomes something else, and then something else. I can't complete the puzzle," he said. "I can get some of it, but never enough to know what I'm seeing."

The...
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