Defining filled and empty space: re-assessing the filled space illusion for active touch and vision.

Collier, E. S., & Lawson, R.

In the filled space illusion, an extent filled with gratings is estimated as longer than an equivalent extent that is apparently empty. However, researchers do not seem to have carefully considered the terms filled and empty when describing this illusion. Specifically, for active touch, smooth, solid surfaces have typically been used to represent empty space. Thus it is not known whether comparing gratings to truly empty space (air) during active exploration by touch elicits the same illusionary effect. In Experiments 1 and 2, gratings were estimated as longer if they were compared to smooth, solid surfaces rather than being compared to truly empty space. Consistent with this, Experiment 3 showed that empty space was perceived as longer than solid surfaces when the two were compared directly. Together these results are consistent with the hypothesis that, for touch, the standard filled space illusion only occurs if gratings are compared to smooth, solid surfaces and that it may reverse if gratings are compared to empty space. Finally, Experiment 4 showed that gratings were estimated as longer than both solid and empty extents in vision, so the direction of the filled space illusion in vision was not affected by the nature of the comparator. These results are discussed in relation to the dual nature of active touch.

Experimental Brain Research (2016), 234, 2697-2708.