The Curious Case of Optical Illusions and Its Effects On the Mind

Today's post is authored by MedEq's Social Media Chair and Mental Health Project Head, Nastaeen Tajin.

If you’ve been keeping up with the Mental Health blogs up until this point, we’ve discussed various ways to relieve stress. For example, in the past we’ve talked about caffeine, electroconvulsive therapy, and very recently, sleep. Although these are common ways people ease their mind, there is one method that has existed for centuries and has not yet received the credit it deserves: photoelectric therapy, commonly known as optical illusions.

Although the theory of photoelectric therapy had existed centuries before, it wasn’t until the 19th century that Dr. Babbit, M.D. experimented with colored light and confirmed, through research, the therapeutic effects of it. But the research did not stop there. Fast forward to the 1930’s, Dr. Spitler had proved that mental illnesses could be controlled, and in idyllic circumstances, eradicated by the use of colors. Fast forward to modern day 2016, it is now known that light plays a bigger role in our minds than previously thought. There are 4 recognized effects of light:

The optic nerve to the pituitary gland, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe of the brain. This information affects the conscious part of the brain without interpretation

A second nerve bundle from the retina to the hypothalamus, which is a major control area for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves.

This path goes from the retina to the midbrain, and then to the superior cervical ganglion to the brainstem and then to the pineal gland. This area controls, among other things, our circadian (sleep/wake) cycle

The last is a direct effect of the light upon particles that travel in the lymph, blood, and nerves. Researchers at the University of Vienna found that albumin is one of the particles able to be charged by light. It is then able to deliver this charge to tissues at distant locations (tissues) in the body.

In other words, the ultimate method to relieve the mind is through colored light because it stimulates the brain through the visual system by way of the retinal-hypothalamus brain connection. Consider it as a form of “exercise” for the brain.

Most children in elementary schools are taught to associate colors to various emotions. The beauty behind this is that every individual perceives colors with different emotions based on the their personal experience. For example, one may look at the color green and tie it with envy or jealous. Yet another person could look green, and connect it with serenity, possibly the calmness of nature. This notion is based on the prescribed use of light to render positive emotions within someone, which would overall help their mental health. But just like how every being perceives color differently, they also must view the light in different intensities and different shades to evoke the desired emotions. The different light effects and controls human beings and biological processes in the nature.

So where does colored light in all of this play a role in optical illusions, you ask?

Before we can delve into the importance of optical illusions, we must first ask ourselves, “what exactly is an optical illusion?” An optical illusion, or visual illusion, happens when our minds misunderstand the color stimulus which is sent to our brains. It happens when the visual effects on the eyes and brain have a specific brightness, oscillation frequencies, color, and movement. The optical illusions and visual effects can have a strong effect on emotional and physical states of human beings. But some visual illusions can be stronger than others. It all depends on the visual sensory interactions that occur within the brain.

Not only do optical illusions help with curing the mind of illnesses, but it can also help detect certain illnesses. For example, schizophrenics are immune to optical illusions. Whereas our brains fool us to see images that may or not be there, schizophrenics cannot see an optical illusion, and see the image/motion as it is. A 2010 BBC News information talk, lead by Claudia Hammond and Dr Steve Dakin, discuss the whether optical illusions should be a legitimate way to detect mental illness. You can listen to it here.

Optical Illusions surround us. And even more broader, colors surround us. The value of colors as a form of mental therapy has been severely undermined throughout the centuries. And because this isn’t common practice, there isn’t enough data to conclude that it is an effective form of relieving stress. But just because a doctor does not prescribe one to use this therapy, it doesn’t mean one cannot observe optical illusions on their own when they are stressed.

The beauty of colors is that it affects us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.


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