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Curve Ball

By Mike Unger

Man in a battling cage hitting baseball

Curveballs curve. Arthur Shapiro wants to be absolutely clear about that. They just don’t curve as much as we think they do, and he created a computer illustration to prove it.

Shapiro, a vision science expert who will begin his first term as a professor in the psychology department this fall, won the Neural Correlate Society’s Best Visual Illusion of the Year in May.

The winning entry, which Shapiro created with Zhong-Lin Lu of the University of Southern California, Dartmouth’s Emily Knight, and Rob Ennis of SUNY Optometry, is a computer-generated graphic that shows how the eye tricks the brain.

“There’s good physics to show why curveballs break,” said Shapiro, whose 10-year-old twins are bigger baseball fans than he is. “The problem is there’s nothing about the curveball that says it should break so dramatically. For someone standing at the plate, it has to do with the transition between looking at it directly and looking at it in the periphery.”

On several occasions, Shapiro has dug into an actual batter’s box and tried to hit an actual curveball. What happens?

“Usually I fall down on the ground and the pitch is a strike.”