This study presents a new powerful visual illusion, in which simple “open” objects—ones with missing boundaries—are perceived as bigger than the same size, fully “closed” objects. In a series of experiments that employed a continuous-response adjustment procedure, it was found that the lack of vertical boundaries inflated the perceived width of an object, whereas the lack of horizontal boundaries inflated its perceived length. The effect was highly robust and it was replicated across different stimulus types and experimental parameters, with almost all observers exhibiting a strong effect. In contrast to the overestimation of the size of an object due to missing boundaries, the inclusion of inner boundaries within an object caused observers to underestimate its size, suggesting that filled space sometimes shrinks, rather than inflates, the perceived size of an object. The open-object illusion bears practical implications for graphics and design as well as important theoretical implications. Specifically, it indicates that the perception of an object’s area is not veridical but rather critically depends on contour closure. It is suggested that the visual system extends the missing boundaries of open contour objects, which results in an overestimation of the object’s size.
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© 2017, The Psychonomic Society, Inc.