Coming face to face with 2-faced faces

Ambiguous figures can be interpreted in multiple ways, but people generally cannot perceived both interpretations at once (see Leopold & Logothetis, 1999 for a review). When pairs of ambiguous figures are presented, the interpretations typically fluctuate in unison (Adams & Haire, 1958; Attneave, 1968; Eby et al, 1989; Gillam, 1972; Vanrie & Verfaillie, 2004). In this demonstration, we present pairs of identical ambiguous figures and confirm that observers perceive them the same way. Even with intentional effort, some observers cannot hold opposing interpretations of the two figures in mind. However, when the two figures are given distinct semantic roles (e.g. duck eats bunny), most observers can see the two figures as different objects. Providing this framing allows people to reinterpret identical visual information differently. Conceptual information may direct attention and/or eye movements to the disambiguating features of the figures. Alternatively, the semantic framing may alter the the visual representations at a more conceptual level. Until now, ducks and bunnies, old and young women, and vases and faces kept to themselves. Here we show how, with a single word, normally conflicting interpretations can peacefully coexist side by side.

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