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What You See in This Classic Optical Illusion May Say a Lot About Your Age, Study Finds


The optical illusion titled “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” has made people scratch their heads for a long time — since 1915, to be exact. The famous brainteaser by British cartoonist William Ely Hill boasts a facial perception trick: When you look at the image, you either see the face of a wife or the face of a mother-in-law, but it’s pretty darn impossible to see both at the same time. 

Many folks who take a close look at the illusion report spotting either the younger woman or the older woman first, and then struggling to see the second woman afterward. As it turns out, recent research reveals that whichever woman you see first might have something to do with how old you are.

If you’ve never seen the “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” optical illusion before, take a look at the clever illustration for yourself below. (And even if you have seen it before, it never hurts to refresh your memory.) So, which one do you see first: the wife or the mother-in-law?

my wife and my mother in law optical illusion

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

If you saw the wife first and have trouble seeing the mother-in-law, here’s a clue that might help: The younger woman’s necklace is supposed to be the older woman’s mouth. And if you saw the mother-in-law first and can’t figure out where the wife is supposed to be, take a closer look at the older woman’s nose; that’s supposed to be the younger woman’s jawline! Clever, huh?

Now, back to the study: Australian researchers asked 393 participants aged 18 to 68 to tell them who they saw in the optical illusion. The results, published in the August 2018 issue of Scientific Reports, showed that the youngest set of people tended to see the wife first, while the oldest set of participants tended to see the mother-in-law first.

The researchers wrote, “Faces from a social in-group, such as people of a similar age, receive more in-depth processing and are processed holistically.”

If you think about the results, it’s not super shocking that most folks would see an image that they could possibly relate to more — even if the only similarity was potentially being closer in age to the fictional person. But hey: If you saw an image much younger than your actual age, maybe that’s just a sign that you’re super young at heart!

h/t Science Alert

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