And today in brands winning social media, we have this: An optical illusion on the McDonald’s U.K. Facebook page has broken the internet. Or, if not the internet, it’s broken everyone’s brains. As comment after comment on the post notes, it’s seriously messing with people’s eyes… but it’s also kind of fantastic. Optical illusions are a blast, mostly because it’s hilarious to see how much our eyes can trick our brains, and vice versa. Isn’t science fun?
McDonald’s U.K. posted the image on both its Facebook page and Twitter account on Oct. 15. The tweet didn’t receive much attention — as of this writing, it only has 280 responses, 401 retweets, and about 1,400 likes — but the Facebook post? Hoo boy. That one took off in a big way, resulting in over 19,000 comments, more than 2,500 shares, and 11,000 reactions.
The best part, though, is that McDonald’s U.K. responded to a bunch of the comments — and those responses are priceless. One of them, of course, has received much more attention than the others; I believe this is mainly because, as BuzzFeed pointed out, it demonstrates an absolute lack of effs given about it.
First, though, let’s take a look at the illusion itself. Ready? Here it is:
And now, that absolute gem of a comment: In response to someone writing, “That’s just messed up my eyes, thanks, McDonald’s,” they replied…
That is, however, far from the only hilarious reply the company’s social media team has left. When someone noted that there was no nugget emoji, they said:
(Are you listening, Unicode?)
One clever person said that they were going to hide this image on their wedding invitations, to which McD’s replied:
Lots of people, of course, tagged their friends in the post — to which one user assured their pal, “I will always bring nuggets!” Said McDonald’s:
Alas, though, not everyone was feeling so generous. One Facebook user named Phoebe was having a hard time seeing the image ("I don't get it" was the phrase use), at which point McDonald’s observed:
For what it’s worth, I did try to figure out if this image is an example of a particular type of optical illusion — and my conclusion is that it’s not quite (or at least, I don’t think it is — if I’m wrong, do let me know, Gentle Readers). There is still some science at work here, though, so let's take a look.
What the picture really is, is an overlay of two separate images: One of the words “BRING MCNUGGETS” written in light gray letters, and one of a panel of black vertical lines. Here, I’ve recreated them both myself using a handy-dandy, web-based design program:
Both images have then been stacked on top of a white background:
Et voilà! I have recreated a quick-and-dirty version of the McNuggets image that’s giving our peepers so much trouble.
But there is a reason why a lot of us are having trouble looking at it — and it’s because of the stripes. According to research published earlier in 2017, for some people, looking at stripes can “trigger a neural loop of activity in the brain,” as The Telegraph put it. However, it seems to be an issue specifically with modern stripes — the sort made with the kind of precision only computers allow us — because our eyes and brains just weren’t built with this kind of regularity in mind. The Guardian described it in a fun little piece on the subject as follows:
I see. It seems that our brains are not designed to cope with such extreme regularity, as it doesn’t occur in nature. The researchers found that once they distorted the lines slightly or blurred their edges, the oscillations died down.
So, this is a sort of “illusion” that only works because technology is what it is these days. Which, in a way, is kind of the coolest part about the whole thing. Just be warned, though, that according to the research, viewing these kinds of stripes can trigger migraines or seizures in some people — so if you decide to look, look carefully. (Or at least, know before you look whether you’re prone to migraines or seizures.)
Science: Messing with our heads since the dawn of time.