Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore the flashed face distortion effect

Tanya Wen, Chun Chia Kung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The flashed face distortion (FFD) effect was coined by Tangen, Murphy, and Thompson (2011) in their second-place winner of the 2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest. The FFD arises when people view various eye-aligned faces that are sequentially flashed in the visual periphery, and gradually the faces appear to be deformed and grotesque. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, participants were presented with four conditions: (a) one face pair changing only its illumination; (b) two and (c) three alternating face pairs; and (d) nonrepeated face pairs. Participants rated the magnitude of each illusion immediately after each block. Results showed that the receptive region of the early visual cortex (V1-V4), and category-selective areas such as the fusiform face area (FFA) and occipital face area (OFA), responded proportionally to the participants' rated FFD strength. A random-effects voxelwise analysis further revealed positively correlated areas (including the medial and superolateral frontal areas) and negatively correlated areas (including the precuneus, postcentral gyrus, right insula, and bilateral middle frontal gyri) with respect to participants' ratings. Time series correlations among these nine ROIs (four positive and five negative) indicated that most participants showed a clustering of the two separate ROI types. Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) also demonstrated the segregation of the positive and negative ROIs; additionally, two subsystems were identified within the negative ROIs. These results suggest that the FFD is mediated by at least two networks: one that is likely responsible for perception and another that is likely responsible for subjective feelings and engagement.

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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