What makes these legs so shiny?

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Open your discussion of sensation and perception by showing students this image. Note the white on the clear bulb where the light is reflecting. Our eyes detect white, but our brains know that those white spots aren’t really white. Based on past experience, our brain perceives the white as merely reflections of light.

Clear light bulb

Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/clear-glass-light-bulb-75427

Next, show students this photo.

Legs that appear shiny

Image source: http://cheezburger.com/8985651968/shiny-legs-optical-illusion-paint-whats-making-these-legs-look-so-...    

It’s not quite The Dress, but this is still pretty cool. Like many people, what you see are shiny legs. Do they look like they are covered in a hard, clear plastic?

But what if I told you that there is no plastic. It’s just strategically placed white paint?

If you saw shiny legs, you were perceiving the white as reflected light, as you rightly did with the light bulb. Once you’re told the white is paint, the shininess disappears, and you are just left with, well, white paint.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.