VSL:SCIENCE // Seeing what we want to see

When it comes to visual illusions, the “hollow mask” is an all-time classic: Most of us look at the concave interior of a mask and see a convex face. But oddly enough, schizophrenics don’t register the illusion — and according to scientists at Hannover Medical University, what they do see tells us something about the nature of mental illness.

Those of us who see the face in the mask do so because our expectations have a profound influence on our perceptions. But schizophrenics’ perceptions aren’t modulated by experience — they see the world all too clearly. The scientists say that over time, this sensory “malfunction” can lead to the classic symptoms of the illness, including delusions and a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories. Drunks and drug users, take note: People who are high on alcohol or cocaine tend to react to the illusion just as schizophrenics do.

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