The Venus effect in real life and in photographs.

Marco Bertamini 1, Rebecca Lawson 1, Luke Jones 2 and Madeline Winters 1

1 University of Liverpool, 2 University of Manchester

The toilet of Venus is the subject of many paintings. Typically, Venus appears with a small mirror in which her face is visible. Observers tend to say that Venus is admiring herself in a mirror, even when the location of the mirror makes this impossible. We demonstrate that the Venus effect is not specific to paintings by showing that it occurs in real life (Experiment 1) and in photographs (Experiments 14). The original description of the effect implied that observers describe Venus as seeing in a mirror what they (the observers) see. We used different photographs to compare the responses when the person in front of the mirror could or could not see him or herself and when the image of his or her face was or was not visible to the observer. Observers tend to state that a person can see his or her own reflection when he or she appears near a mirror, whether or not his or her face is visible in the mirror. A task based on a top-down view of a room confirmed that people lack sensitivity to the role of the viewpoint (Experiment 5). We discuss these findings in relation to other evidence of difficulty in understanding what is visible in a mirror.

Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, (2010), 72, 1948-1964.