Spatial vision

Perceptual distance and the moon illusion

View publication


The elevated moon usually appears smaller than the horizon moon of equal angular size. This is the moon illusion. Distance cues may enable the perceptual system to place the horizon moon at an effectively greater distance than the elevated moon, thus making it appear as larger. This explanation is related to the size-distance invariance hypothesis. However, the larger horizon moon is usually judged as closer than the smaller zenith moon. A bias to expect an apparently large object to be closer than a smaller object may account for this conflict. We designed experiments to determine if unbiased sensitivity to illusory differences in the size and distance of the moon (as measured by d′) is consistent with SDIH. A moon above a 'terrain' was compared in both distance and size to an infinitely distant moon in empty space (the reduction moon). At a short distance the terrain moon was adjudged as both closer and smaller than the reduction moon. But these differences could not be detected at somewhat greater distances. At still greater distances the terrain moon was perceived as both more distant and larger than the reduction moon. The distances at which these transitions occurred were essentially the same for both distance and size discrimination tasks, thus supporting SDIH.