A review of the footsteps illusion

Keywords: footsteps illusion, motion perception, contrast, geometrical illusion, extinction effect, position capture, motion capture, reverse phi


Studies on the footsteps illusion proposed by Anstis (2001) and its variants are reviewed in this article. The footsteps illusion has been explained as a difference in perceived speed depending on edge contrast (Thompson, 1982). In addition to this explanation, it is suggested that the footsteps illusion and its variants can also be attributed to the geometrical illusion presented by Gregory and Heard (1983), to the extinction effect similar to hidden images by Wade (1990), and to subsequent position or motion captures. Related illusions, for example, the kickback illusion (Howe, Thompson, Anstis, Sagreiya, & Livingstone, 2006), the kick-forward illusion, the driving-on-a-bumpy-road illusion, or the footsteps illusion based upon reverse phi motion, are discussed in this article.


Download data is not yet available.


Anstis, S. M. (1970). Phi movement as a subtraction process. Vision Research, 10, 1411–1430. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(70)90092-1

Anstis, S. M. (2001). Footsteps and inchworms: Illusions show that contrast modulates motion salience. Perception, 30, 785–794. doi: 10.1068/p3211

Anstis, S. M. (2003). Moving objects appear to slow down at low contrasts. Neural Networks, 16, 933–938. doi: 10.1068/p140167

Anstis, S. M. (2004). Factors affecting footsteps: Contrast can change the apparent speed, amplitude and direction of motion. Vision Research, 44, 2171–2178. doi: 10.1016/j.visres.2004.03.015

Anstis, S. M., & Rogers, B. J. (1975). Illusory reversal of visual depth and movement during changes of contrast. Vision Research, 15, 957–961. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(75)90236-9

Anstis, S. M., & Rogers, B. J. (1986). Illusory continuous motion from oscillating positive–negative patterns: Implications for motion perception. Perception, 15, 627–640. doi: 10.1068/p150627

Anstis, S., Verstraten, F. A., & Mather, G. (1998). The motion aftereffect. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2(3), 111–117. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(98)01142-5

Goda, N., & Ejima, Y. (1997). Moving stimuli define the shape of stationary chromatic patterns. Perception, 26, 1413–1422. doi: 10.1068/p261413

Goldberg, D. M., & Pomerantz, J. R. (1982). Models of illusory pausing and sticking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 8(4), 547–561. doi: 10.1037//0096-1523.8.4.547

Gregory, R. L., & Heard, P. F. (1983). Visual dissociations of movement, position, and stereo depth. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, A, 35, 217–237. doi: 10.1080/14640748308402127

Howe, P. D. L., Thompson, P. G., Anstis, S., Sagreiya, H., & Livingstone, M. S. (2006). Explaining the footsteps, belly dancer, Wenceslas and kickback illusions. Journal of Vision, 6, 1396–1405. doi: 10.1167/6.12.5

Kitaoka, A. (2006). Configurational coincidence among six phenomena: A comment on van Lier and Csathó (2006). Perception, 35, 799–806. doi: 10.1068/p5319b

Kitaoka, A. (2014). Color-dependent motion illusions in stationary images and their phenomenal dimorphism. Perception, 43(9), 914–925. doi: 10.1068/p7706

Kitaoka, A. (2017). The Fraser-Wilcox illusion and its extension. In A. G. Shapiro & D. Todorović (Eds.), The Oxford compendium of visual illusions (pp. 500–511). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199794607.003.0068

Kitaoka, A., & Anstis, S. (2015). Second-order footsteps illusions. i-Perception, 6(6), 1–4. doi: 10.1177/2041669515622085

Kitaoka, A., & Ashida, H. (2007). A variant of the anomalous motion illusion based upon contrast and visual latency. Perception, 36, 1019–1035. doi: 10.1068/p5362

Murakami, I., & Shimojo, S. (1993). Motion capture changes to induced motion at higher luminance contrasts, smaller eccentricities, and larger inducer sizes. Vision Research, 33, 2091–2107. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(93)90008-K

Pinna, B., & Brelstaff, G. J. (2000). A new visual illusion of relative motion. Vision Research, 40, 2091–2096. doi: 10.1016/S0042-6989(00)00072-9

Ramachandran, V. S. (1987). Interaction between colour and motion in human vision. Nature, 328, 645–647. doi: 10.1038/328645a0

Rogers, B., Anstis, S., Ashida, H., & Kitaoka, A. (2019). Reversed phi and the ‘phenomenal phenomena’ revisited. i-Perception, 10(4), 1–22. doi: 10.1177/2041669519856906

Spillmann, L., Saito, K., & Komatsu, H. (2016). Hajime Ōuchi – A mystery resolved. Perception, 45, 371–374. doi: 10.1177/0301006616637433

Stone, L. S., & Thompson, P. (1992). Human speed perception is contrast dependent. Vision Research, 32, 1535–1549. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(92)90209-2

Sunaga, S., Sato, M., Arikado, N., & Jomoto, H. (2008). A static geometrical illusion contributes largely to the footsteps illusion. Perception, 37, 902–914. doi: 10.1068/p5689

Thompson, P. (1982). Perceived rate of movement depends on contrast. Vision Research, 22, 377–380. doi: 10.1016/0042-6989(82)90153-5

Thompson, P., & Anstis, S. (2005). Retracing our footsteps: A revised theory of the footsteps illusion [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 5(8), 929. doi: 10.1167/5.8.929

Wade, N. (1990). Visual allusions: Pictures of perception. London: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Wade, N. J. (2017). Hidden images. In A. G. Shapiro & D. Todorović (Eds.), The Oxford compendium of visual illusions (pp. 774–780). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199794607.003.0113

Zenger-Landolt, B., & Koch, C. (2001). Flanker effects in peripheral contrast discrimination – Psychophysics and modeling. Vision Research, 41, 3663–3675. doi: 10.1016/S0042-6989(01)00175-4
How to Cite
Kitaoka, A., & Anstis, S. (2021). A review of the footsteps illusion. Journal of Illusion, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.47691/joi.v2.5612
Review reports