The rubber pencil illusion


When a straight, rigid line segment is put into certain types of motion, it appears to an observer to lose its rigidity and become rubbery, as in the well-known “rubber pencil illusion.“ The factors controlling this illusion were examined, including the nature of the motion employed (harmonic or linear oscillation), the amplitudes of the translational and rotational components of the motion, and the phase relationship between these two components. The effect is shown to be due to visual persistence. The status of the illusion as a potential counterexample to the rigidity principle (that moving, two-dimensional arrays will be perceived as rigid) is discussed.


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Correspondence to James R. Pomerantz.

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This research was supported in part by Research Development and Incentive Funds from the Research Foundation of SUNY.

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Pomerantz, J.R. The rubber pencil illusion. Perception & Psychophysics 33, 365–368 (1983).

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  • Phase Angle
  • Linear Motion
  • Rotational Component
  • Harmonic Motion
  • Visual Persistence