One of the most exciting things about VR is its power to play tricks on the mind. From creating new senses to improving old ones, here are four ways that VR developers are experimenting with human perception.

Impossible Colors

The creator of Graffiti 3D made it possible for you to set different colors for each eye as you paint in three dimensions. This plays a trick on your visual cortex to create the appearance of impossible (or “forbidden”) colors.

For example, if you relax your eyes and let the shapes overlap in the video above, you’ll see the colors blend together while paradoxically remaining separate. You can also see this effect in the image to the right; just let the plus signs overlap to see the color “yellow-blue.” But impossible colors aren’t the only way to explore the divide between left and right eyes.

Retraining Your Eyes

From impossible colors to phantom sensations, how to trick your brain in #VR. Click To TweetFor people with lazy eye and other sight impairments, the world always appears flat. There’s nothing physically wrong with their eyes – their brains are simply ignoring the input from one eye. But since VR gives developers total control over what people see in each eye, it might be possible to retain people’s brains to focus on the input from both eyes. That’s the thinking behind Vivid Vision (formerly known as Diplopia), who are gamifying rehabilitation exercises with the hope of helping millions of people worldwide.

Blending Sight and Sound


Isaac Cohen’s Rainbow Membrane is an artistic exploration of synesthesia, the blurring of sight and sound, where you can stroke a virtual texture to create music. The visuals and the music are intimately connected, so that it feels like both senses are connected by a common texture. You can try the demo here for desktop, or download Mozilla’s beta browser to try it in virtual reality.

The Illusion of Touch

Sight and sound can also work together to create the illusion of touch, as we’ve heard from people who tried Plasma Ball and “felt” the electricity in their fingers:

VICE Creators Project reported similarly surreal impressions from Rainbow Membrane:

“The real magic began once I stretched my hands out in front of my face. I realized I could not only touch but feel everything I was seeing, thanks to a combination of the surface’s realistic physics and the sound cues I was hearing…. It seemed like a simple enough concept; foley artists have been fooling the eyes via the ears since The Jazz Singer. But the idea that vision and sound can fool the fingers into feeling is something that has to be felt to be believed.”

Have you ever felt tricked by virtual reality in an unexpected way? What sort of brain hacks would you like to see in future demos?

Yellow-blue example courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Alex Colgan is the senior director of marketing and developer community at Leap Motion. By transforming how we interact with technology, he believes we can make our world feel more human.

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