Our eyes never remain perfectly still, even when staring at one spot. Researchers in Arizona picked up a Where’s Waldo? book and recorded the eye movements of subjects searching for the lanky bespectacled nerd. It turns out, the more complicated the scene, the more twitchy we get. And when something stands out in the scene, our eyes shake it like a Polaroid picture, helping tell our brain that we’ve found what we’re looking for.
It turns out, the twitchiness has a deeper purpose. Our peripheral vision is obscured when we focus on one thing, and the twitch helps “fill in the blanks” of our field of view. This is why optical illusions make a static image appear to be moving. One of the most common examples is “The Enigma” by Isia Leviant. Click here to view it. The lines appear to “twitch” as we stare at the circle in the center.
Here’s the analysis of a subject searching for Waldo:
[quote author=”Ralf Engbert, University of Potsdam psychologist”]We could extrapolate the results to daily life situations. Our visual system evolved to spot moving targets. If we want to look at a stationary scene in detail, we need to perform miniature movements to optimize vision.[/quote]
The research suggests those of us with twitchier eyes are better at finding a friend in a crowd, a landmark in the distance, or our lost car keys.
American Institute of PhysicsTwitchy eyes solve ‘Where’s Waldo?’
Journal of VisionVideo
michaelbach.deOptical Illusions & Visual Phenomena