Which table is longer? They are identical. See the video below. Although there are several videos about Shepard tables illusion, I made the video together with my son because we wanted to have fun together and experience how the experiment works.
How to explain the illusion? According to Roger N. Shepard, we are commonly fooled by our depth perception. Researchers at New York University explained that humans tend to ‘interpret a drawing or image as a three-dimensional object’, rather than for what it really is. As we live in a 3D world, we automatically convert 2D objects on a page into a 3D interpretation.
We live on autopilot, our brains like to simply and generalise. Often we don’t pause to question our assumptions and thoughts. Just like we automatically misinterpret the context of the tables and therefore see the identical tabletops to be different in size, we can perceive things incorrectly and make wrong conclusions in other contexts as well.
For example, we may transfer our feelings, attitudes and behaviours from the past onto present relationships. This is often an unconscious process and can happen in various settings, e.g.:
- A young employee is reserved in the presence of her much older male manager and expects orders from him because he reminds her of his authoritarian father. (i.e. she applies her past experience to the present which distorts her reality).
- A person may be easily annoyed by a workmate who looks a bit like their younger sibling, who was often irritating. (i.e. the person applies her feelings of irritation from the past to his/her present workmate).
According to Shepard, “any knowledge or understanding of the illusion we may gain at the intellectual level remains virtually powerless to diminish the magnitude of the illusion.” The same applies to transference. Even if we know and understand what transference, countertransference and projection are, we may easily experience them without being aware of it.
It’s not only professionals working with people, such as psychologists, coaches, supervisors etc, who should be aware of such processes, it’s also leaders who should develop awareness and skills to manage transference, countertransference, projection and other psychological processes.