“Stepping feet” Motion Illusion

from Michael’s Visual Phenomena & Optical Illusions


What to observe

Observe the movement of blue and yellow “feet”. The feet seem to step alternately, like tiny feet going tip-tap-tip-tap… This is more pronounced if you do not look directly on the feet, but between them.

In reality their movement is always simultaneous. I find this phenomenon particularly cute.

What to do

When deselecting the ‘Hi contrast’ checkbox, the grating contrast is reduced, demonstrating that the feet are not stepping out of phase.

The stepper “bars/foot” sets the number of bars per foot. This is preset to 4, the effect occurs also at all other even values. For odd values, e.g. 5, the motion also becomes odd: instead of stepping alternately, the feet seem to move like worms, extending and shortening. [This option added 2012.]

The sliders at top and bottom control the luminance of their respective foot. When you make the yellow foot brighter than the light bars of the grating, it does not lag behind any more. When you make it very dark, it moves together with the blue foot. The sliders (added 2010) allow you to experiment with the explanations below, I still prefer the “level 2” explanantion.

The pop-up menu below “Hi contrast” allows you to select other colour combinations, namely red-green and gray shades. For red-green, the contrast of the grating is reduced a little, making the dark lighter, but it still needs a very dark red (=brown) to equate luminance.

There are more buttons with (hopefully) obvious functions.


Stuart Anstis first demonstrated this illusion in 2003.






The demonstration above was inspired by Stuart’s version. Thanks to Wolfgang Wesemann for first drawing my attention to this phenomenon, and Wolfgang Beyer for bright ideas.

Kitaoka A, Anstis S (2021) A review of the footsteps illusion. Journal of Illusion 2021, 2: 5612

Anstis SM (2003) Moving objects appear to slow down at low contrasts. Neural Netw 16:933–938

Anstis SM (2004) Factors affecting footsteps: contrast can change the apparent speed, amplitude and direction of motion. Vision Res 44:2171–2178

Thompson P (1982) Perceived rate of movement depends on contrast. Vision Res 22:377–380

Howe PDL, Thompson PG, Anstis SM, Sagreiya H, Livingstone MJ (2006) Explaining the footsteps, belly dancer, Wenceslas, and kickback illusions. Journal of Vision 6, 1396–1405