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Percept Psychophys. 1997 Feb;59(2):284-92.

Perception of the Ponzo illusion by rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees, and humans: similarity and difference in the three primate species.

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Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Inuyama, Japan.


In Experiment 1, 3 rhesus monkeys and 1 chimpanzee were tested for their susceptibility to the Ponzo illusion. The subjects were first trained to report the length of the target bar presented at the center of the computer display by touching either of the two choice locations designated as "long" or "short." When inverted-V context lines were superimposed on the target bar, the subjects tended to report "long" more often as the apex of these upward-converging lines approached the target bar. The perception of the Ponzo illusion was thus demonstrated. In Experiment 2, the same 3 rhesus monkeys and 2 new chimpanzees were tested using two types of context lines that provided different strengths of linear perspective. The subjects showed a bias similar to that found in Experiment 1, but there was no difference in the magnitude of the bias between the two types of context in either species. This failed to support the classic account for the Ponzo illusion, the perspective theory, raised by Gregory (1963). In Experiment 3, the magnitude of the illusion was compared between the inverted-V context and the context consisting of short vertical lines having the same gap as the former in the same 3 rhesus monkeys and 2 of the chimpanzees from the preceding experiments. While the chimpanzees showed the illusion for both types of stimuli, the monkeys showed no illusion for the latter. In Experiment 4, 6 humans were tested in a comparable procedure. As in the nonhuman primates, the illusion was unaffected by the strength of linear perspective. On the other hand, the humans showed considerably larger illusion for the context consisting of vertical lines than for contexts consisting of converging lines. Thus, there was a great species difference in the effect of the gap itself on the magnitude of the Ponzo illusion. Similarity found at first turned out to be no more than superficial. Possible sources of this species difference are discussed.

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