Do visual illusions reliably improve sports performance? To address this issue, we used procedures inspired by Witt et al. (Psychol Sci 23:397–399, 2012) seminal study, which reported that putting on a miniature golf course was positively influenced by an increase in apparent hole size induced by the Ebbinghaus visual illusion. Because Witt et al.’s motor task—putting golf balls toward a hole from the distance of 3.5 m—was impossible for participants who were novices in golf (Experiment 1a), we decided to shorten the putting distance (i.e., 2 m instead of 3.5 m) in Experiment 1b. Otherwise, this second experiment closely followed every other aspects of Witt et al.’s procedure (i.e., one small or one standard golf hole surrounded by a ring of small or large circles). However, this attempt to replicate Witt et al.’s findings failed: the Ebbinghaus illusion significantly influenced neither hole perception nor putting performance. In two subsequent experiments, we encouraged the emergence of the effect of the illusion by simultaneously presenting both versions of the illusion on the mat. This major adaptation successfully modified the perceived size of the hole but had no impact on putting performance (Experiment 2), even when the putting task was made easier by shortening the putting distance to only 1 m (Experiment 3). In the absence of detectable effects of the illusion on putting performance, we conclude that the effects of visual illusions on novice sports performance do not represent a robust phenomenon.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
This assumption was confirmed by an informal conversation between Jessica Witt and the first author of the current article during the 2017 Psychonomics meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
These values are based on a visual inspection of Fig. 1 in Witt et al.’s (2012) article.
As discussed in Experiment 1b, Witt et al.’s (2012) participants were somehow more skilled at putting than our participants.
Cañal-Bruland, R., van der Meer, Y., & Moerman, J. (2016). Can visual illusions be used to facilitate sport skill learning? Journal of Motor Behavior,48, 385–389.
Chauvel, G., Maquestiaux, F., Hartley, A. A., Joubert, S., Didierjean, A., & Masters, R. W. S. (2012). Age effects shrink when motor learning is predominantly supported by nondeclarative, automatic memory processes: evidence from golf putting. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,65, 25–38.
Chauvel, G., Maquestiaux, F., Ruthruff, E., Didierjean, A., & Hartley, A. A. (2013). Novice motor performance: Better not to verbalize. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,20, 177–183.
Chauvel, G., Wulf, G., & Maquestiaux, F. (2015). Visual illusions can facilitate sport skill learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,22, 717–721.
Ebbinghaus, H. (1902). Grundzüge der Psychologie volumes I and II. Leipzig: Verlag von Viet & Co.
Franz, V. H., Gegenfurtner, K. R., Bülthoff, H. N., & Fahle, M. (2000). Grasping visual illusions: No evidence for a dissociation between perception and action. Psychological Science,11, 20–25.
Gonzalez, C. L. R., Ganel, T., Whitwell, R. L., Morrissey, B., & Goodale, M. A. (2008). Practice makes perfect, but only with the right hand: Sensitivity to perceptual illusions with awkward grasps decreases with practice in the right but not the left hand. Neuropsychologia,46, 624–631.
Goodale, M. A., & Milner, D. A. (1992). Separate pathways for perception and action. Trends in Neurosciences,15, 20–25.
Grzeczkowski, L., Clarke, A. M., Francis, G., Mast, F. W., & Herzog, M. H. (2017). About individual differences in vision. Vision Research,141, 282–292.
JASP Team. (2019). JASP (Version 0.10) [Computer software]. Retrieved from https://jasp-stats.org/.
Jeffreys, H. (1961). Theory of probability. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kopiske, K. K., Bruno, N., Hesse, C., Schenk, T., & Franz, V. H. (2016). The functional subdivision of the visual brain: Is there a real illusion effect on action? A multi-lab replication study. Cortex,79, 130–152.
Luck, S. J., & Gaspelin, N. (2017). How to get statistically significant effects in any ERP experiment (and why you shouldn’t). Psychophysiology,54, 146–157.
Masters, R. S. W. (1992). Knowledge, knerves, and know-how: The role of explicit versus implicit knowledge in the breakdown of a complex motor skill under pressure. British Journal of Psychology,83, 343–358.
Maxwell, J. P., Masters, R. S. W., Keer, E., & Weedon, E. (2001). The implicit benefit of learning without errors. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,54A, 1049–1068.
Mruczek, R. E. B., Blair, C. D., Strother, L., & Caplovitz, G. P. (2015). The dynamic Ebbinghaus: Motion dynamics greatly enhance the classical contextual size illusion. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,9, 77.
Pashler, H., & Harris, C. (2012). Is the replicability crisis overblown? Three arguments examined. Perspectives on Psychological Science,7, 531–536.
Ray, W. J. (1999). Methods: Toward a science of behavior and experience. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
Stevens, D., Anderson, D. I., O’Dwyer, N. J., & Williams, A. M. (2012). Does self-efficacy mediate transfer effects in the learning of easy and difficult motor skills? Consciousness and Cognition,21, 1122–1128.
Witt, J. K., Linkenauger, S. A., & Proffitt, D. R. (2012). Get me out of this slump! Visual illusions improve sports performance. Psychological Science,23, 397–399.
Wood, G., Vine, S. J., & Wilson, M. R. (2013). The impact of visual illusions on perception, action planning, and motor performance. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics,75, 830–834.
Woodman, T., & Hardy, L. (2003). The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sports performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences,21, 443–457.
The authors would like to thank Florence Bailly and Julien Soichet for their help with Fig. 1.
Financial support for this research was provided by an IUF Grant to François Maquestiaux.
Conflict of interest
Each of the six coauthors declare that she/he has no conflict of interest.
All the procedures performed in this study involving human participants were conducted in accordance with the standards of the Ethics Committee of the Université de Franche-Comté and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Raw data are publicly available at https://sites.google.com/site/frmaquestiaux/home/data-sharing.
About this article
Cite this article
Maquestiaux, F., Arexis, M., Chauvel, G. et al. Ebbinghaus visual illusion: no robust influence on novice golf-putting performance. Psychological Research (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-020-01298-0