Observe the moving blue line, and the second blue line flashing once in a while. Are they aligned? Try while following the line or while fixating the center.
You may see two things:
As you may have guessed, in reality the two lines align perfectly. If you slow down rotation speed (preset to 10 rpm = revolutions per minute) to 2 or 1 rpm, this becomes obvious.
You can change the flash frequency, which is preset to 99 fpm = flashes per minute.
You can change the duration of the flashed line (∆f), preset to 25 ms.
[The actual duration can only occur in increments of 16.6 ms (assuming you have a frame rate of 60 Hz), so the target duration is only a rough indicator of the acutal duration, as indicated in grey below. If your computer’s workload is heavy, these values may dance around.]
You can switch to a different “flash lag” demonstration: use the pop-up menu to select “Disk” rather than “2 lines”. Now fixate on the central cross, but watch with your inner eye the moving ring. In other words: dissociate gaze direction and attention; this takes some practice.
By now you will have noticed that the blue content of the ring is occasionally replaced by a yellow shape. Is it a full yellow disk or a yellow crescent? If you fixate on the cross, you should only see a crescent. If you follow the ring, you see the full disk. The effect is somewhat subtle.
This is one of the many demonstrations of the “flash-lag” effect. I programmed the first version of this inspired by a fascinating talk by Romi Nijhawan in Freiburg. The explanation, in a nutshell: Our mental perception and planning mechanisms need to take into account the delays in afference, computation & efference. Thus moving objects are “perceived” a bit ahead of their assumed trajectory; the flash (being essentially stationary) is not. Consequently, one perceives a positional disparity between briefly flashed stationary and moving objects.
I used to think that the flash-lag effect is “the same as” MacKay’s stroboscopic illusion, but since it does not need large luminance differences, it is not completely the same. Both belong, however, to the general scope of problems to integrate sensory information constrained by sensory delays depending on, e.g. ambient luminance, and intermodal latency differences in the order of decades of milliseconds.
Nijhawan R (1994) Motion extrapolation in catching. Nature 370:256–257
and many follow-ups and discussions, e.g.
Eagleman DM, Sejnowski TJ (2002) Untangling spatial from temporal illusions. TINS 25:293
Krekelberg B, Lappe M (2002) Response: Untangling spatial from temporal illusions. TINS 25:294
Enns JT, Brehaut JC, Shore DI (1999)The duration of a brief event in the mind’s eye. J Gen Psychol 126:355–373