Ebbinghaus visual illusion: no robust influence on novice golf-putting performance


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.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    These values are based on a visual inspection of Fig. 1 in Witt et al.’s (2012) article.

  3. 3.

    As discussed in Experiment 1b, Witt et al.’s (2012) participants were somehow more skilled at putting than our participants.


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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.

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Correspondence to François Maquestiaux.

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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

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