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Psychology | News

Department Spotlight

Psychology Faculty Member and Student Collaborate on Best Illusion of the Year

By Dr. Rosemary Wander

PhD student Erica Dixon in Naples, FL.

Psychology PhD student Erica Dixon presented with Dr. Shapiro in Naples, FL.

American University researchers received 2nd place in the Neural Correlate Society’s annual Best Illusion of the Year Contest. 170 entries were submitted for this year’s contest, out of which 10 were selected by an international panel of judges. 

An audience composed primarily of scientists interested in vision and the brain voted to select the top three illusions of the year; the contest was held in May 2011 at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida. 

The laboratory of Dr. Arthur Shapiro, Professor of Psychology, produced two of this year’s top 10 illusions. The illusion that won the 2nd place trophy was presented by co-author Erica Dixon, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Shapiro’s laboratory. Dr. Kai Hamburger, a colleague at Universität Giessen (Germany), is also co-author on this project. Dr. Shapiro and his students have been awarded four trophies since the contest began in 2005. 

According to Dr. Shapiro, “Every year top research labs from all over the world enter the contest. I am consistently amazed by the creativity of my colleagues. This year’s contest was one of the best.” In the 2011 contest, the first prize was awarded to a team from Harvard University, and third prize to a researcher from Paris Descartes University.

Regarding his lab’s illusion research, Dr. Shapiro said, “On a theoretical level, I’m interested in learning how the brain works, how we perceive the world around us. Practically speaking, I’m interested in vision problems and neurological disorders that affect how we see; these illusions are a great way to highlight what the brain does and test the brain’s capabilities.” Take a look at the Neural Correlate Society’s website at to see Ms. Dixon, Dr. Shapiro, and Dr. Hamburger’s prize-winning entry and the other top ten entries from 2011 (and to see top ten entries from previous years).   

The Neural Correlate Society supports research into brain activity corresponding to sensory perception, awareness, and cognitive experience. 

Visual illusions from the Shapiro lab can also be viewed at, and