Oct 11 2007

Left Brain – Right brain and the Spinning Girl

Take a look at the spinning girl below. Do you see it spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise? I see it spinning counter-clockwise, and I had a hard time getting it to switch direction. Give it a try.

These kinds of optical illusions are always fun. What they reveal is how our brain processes visual information in order to create a visual model of the world. The visual system evolved to make certain assumptions that are almost always right (like, if something is smaller is it likely farther away). But these assumptions can be exploited to created a false visual construction, or an optical illusion.

The spinning girl is a form of the more general spinning silhouette illusion. The image is not objectively “spinning” in one direction or the other. It is a two-dimensional image that is simply shifting back and forth. But our brains did not evolve to interpret two-dimensional representations of the world but the actual three-dimensional world. So our visual processing assumes we are looking at a 3-D image and is uses clues to interpret it as such. Or, without adequate clues it may just arbitrarily decide a best fit – spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. And once this fit is chosen, the illusion is complete – we see a 3-D spinning image.

By looking around the image, focusing on the shadow or some other part, you may force your visual system to reconstruct the image and it may choose the opposite direction, and suddenly the image will spin in the opposite direction.

This news article, like many others, ignores the true source of this optical illusion and instead claims it is a quick test to see if you use more of your right brain or left brain. This is utter nonsense, but the “right-brain/left brain” thing is in the public consciousness and won’t be going away anytime soon. Sure, we have two hemispheres that operate fine independently and have different abilities, but they are massively interconnected and work together as a seamless whole (providing you have never had surgery to cut your corpus callosum).

We also do have hemispheric dominance, but that determines mostly your handedness and the probability of language being on the right or the left. There is also often asymmetry for memory, with some being right or left hemisphere dominant. But none of this means that your personality or abilities are more right brain or left brain. That much is nonsense.

Further, how your visual cortex constructs this optical illusion says nothing about your hemispheric dominance, and is absolutely not a quick personality profile.


This was sent to me by a reader. It is another alleged left brain/right brain test. Find the man in the coffee beans. This is being passed around as an eRumor with the following claims:

Doctors have concluded that, if you find the man in 3 seconds, then the Right half of your brain is better developed than most people.

If you find the man between 3 seconds and one minute, then your right Half of the brain is developed normally.

If you find the man between one minute and 3 minutes, then the right Half of your brain is functioning slowly and you need to Eat more protein.
If you have not found the man after 3 minutes, the right half of your Brain is a mess, and the only advice is to look for more of these types of exercises to make that part of the brain stronger. The man is really there. Keep looking!

The text is almost complete nonsense. The idea of using tests of visual-spacial ability is legitimate and is part of certain standardized tests, but not this picture. Tasks such as constructing complex figures, drawing a clock, bisecting lines, etc. are used. Such tasks are designed to, as much as possible, isolate the ability – and therefore the corresponding brain structure – of interest.

This task would not be a good candidate for visual-spacial ability because it is ambiguous. One might think that they are looking for the face or figure of a man emerging from the pattern of the coffee beans – a phenomenon called pareidolia. So this task may be difficult for someone, not because they lack visual-spacial ability, but because they interpreted the instructions in such a way as to apply the wrong strategy.

Further – no one simple test can ever give you a reliable measure of ability. You need to do a battery of tests and look for patterns of strengths and weaknesses. Someone could get lucky on one test, or get stuck on a single test, and therefore it says very little about their overall ability. Also, any test, in order to be usable, must be validated. That means the test must be applied to known quantities to see if it is actually measuring something, and if it is reliable. Will the same person score similarly at different times, for example? The scoring must also be calibrated – what does it really mean if it takes you > 1 minute to find the man?

The idea of eating protein to help your right brain comes out of left field and is just pure silliness.

Visual-spacial skills do localize to the right parietal lobe in most people, but some people are the opposite. But having good visual-spacial skills does not mean that one’s entire right hemisphere is dominant or functions better. Each ability, whether it localizes to the right or left hemisphere, can vary independently.

While it is fun to look for hidden pictures, this amounts to little more than a game and is not a valid test for anything. To be clear, this kind of task may be a useful part of a battery of tests designed to assess aspects of cognitive function, but would only be useful if they were designed properly and validated, which this test has not.

71 responses so far

71 thoughts on “Left Brain – Right brain and the Spinning Girl”

  1. Jim Shaver says:

    Cool. By the way, I found it quite easy to arbitrarily switch directions, especially after reading that the animation is actually “a two-dimensional image that is simply shifting back and forth.” Knowing this, force yourself to expect the girl to rotate counter-clockwise to the right, with her left leg stretching out toward the screen. When she reaches 180 degrees of rotation, so that her left leg is pointing to the right, assume that she quickly switches her pivot foot from her right foot to her left foot. Then she swings back clockwise to the left, with her right leg stretching out toward the screen. You can then watch her spin half-circles back and forth, changing her pivot foot each half-cycle. You’ll also see her right and left arm positions switch with the direction of rotation. She’s really quite graceful.

    Interestingly, it’s much more difficult for me to see her rotating half-cycles back and forth facing away from me rather than toward me. I think that’s because I’m more of a breast man than a butt man, but I can’t speculate about which side of my brain is responsible for that preference.


  2. Jim Shaver says:

    Okay, to be clear, the two-dimensional image doesn’t exactly shift back and forth. The image does change with each rotational position around 360 degrees. I.e., if the animation frame rate is one frame per degree of rotation (for example), there are 360 unique frames total in the animation. One way to tell this is to look at her shadow, which is different between the “front” 180 degrees and the “back” 180 degrees.


  3. jonny_eh says:

    I can’t make her go clockwise! Does that mean I only have half a brain?

  4. ziggy says:

    I saw it as counterclockwise at first. Then I started reading the text and she switched directions.

  5. Necie B says:

    Despite knowing it’s just a silhouette with two dimensions, I could not get it to spin anti-clockwise until I stared at her foot for a while. Even then, I couldn’t get it to switch back without looking away. Nice illusion.

  6. ellazimm says:

    Could you get Rebecca to do this? I think I could see the effect better with a live model.

  7. kilroy says:

    Thank you Steve, perfect timing!

    I teach gifted kids a variety of extra curricular courses including my latest course: “Critical Thinking”.
    I used this image (along with other optical illusions) to demonstrate the fallibility and selectivity of our sight and brain.

    By the way if you haven’t seen the “basketball clip”, it’s an absolute must! It’s the best demonstration I’ve seen of how selective our sight is. Here’s a link, but DON’T RUIN IT FOR YOUSELF!!! Be sure NOT to read the page!!! Just watch the clip and make sure to count the number of passes between the players in white shirts. I assure you it’s worth it. Cheat and you’ve cheated yourself.


    P.S. I’d love to get any other neat material pertaining to critical thinking if anyone has any links.

  8. anandamide says:

    Is anything known about what goes on in the brain when we ‘switch’ interpretations? BTW – I find it mind-bendingly hard to do so!

  9. Larry Coon says:

    Count me among those who found it very easy to switch between clockwise and counter-clockwise.

  10. ellazimm says:

    I have noticed that when I focus on the woman’s shadow she doesn’t seem to spin at all, merely alternate 180-degree sweeps switching legs. Very interesting.

  11. http://viscog.beckman.uiuc.edu/grafs/demos/15.html

    Awesome illusion. Although there is no text on the page to give it away. I found a discussion here:


    That gives away the effect. So, readers – be sure to watch the video first and count the number of passes between the players in white shirts, then read the discussion on the second link – and watch the video again.

  12. fouro says:

    Nicely de-constructed Stephen, although we might quibble over whether dominance equates to “the probability of language being on the right or the left.” However, your readers might appreciate seeing her broken down into 34 constituent frames via gifbuilder…


    I don’t see “her” as *proof* of L/R preference either, but as discussed at the link above, if we examine what’s being observed there is large possibility for the Right’s propensity for searching out and prioritizing facial information first to lead some down the clockwise road. And leg-men (or -women) and those with a more linear, additive process preference for absorbing input may get the anti-clockwise spin initially. FWIW.

  13. kilroy says:

    Here’s a better link for discussion of “basketball” clip, including links to related articles:


    (It also includes a link to the clip, which is how I got there, and mistakenly thought I had read the explanation on the same page. Sorry about that.)

  14. wildshovel says:

    There actually is a correct answer to the spinning dancer illusion.

    Basically, the key is to watch the changes in the apparent size of the dancer’s raised foot while she spins.

    Note her upraised foot is aways oriented the farthest away from her center of rotation, and as such, will be the part that will appear to change in size the most as she spins. When the foot is toward the viewer, it’ll be look larger; when away from the viewer, it’ll look smaller.

    So, if you pull the original image (called an animated GIF) into an image editor, and examine each frame in the sequence, you will find that the dancer is spinning clockwise. For proof, see Matthew Fekete’s analysis at http://www.bobtechnologies.com/Linkage/SpinningGirl.jpg

    Bottom line: if you thought the dancer was spinning clockwise, you are EITHER right-brained (and thus more creative), OR left-brained and just incredibly observant.

  15. Wildshovel,

    I don’t buy it. I think the foot is at a different apparent angle, but not objectively bigger or smaller in the different frames. Also, look at the calf, it appears bigger in the allegedly more distant frame. So I don’t think there is any objectively correct rotation. (Actually, in a true silhouette the bigger shadow is cast when the object is closer to the light source and farther from the projecting surface, so you could also argue that experience would tell us to construct the shadow rotation the opposite way.)

    But, the bottom line is either rotation is a valid inference from the 2D information, and which way the dancer appears to spin says absolutely nothing about your visuospacial ability. If you can find a validated test to say that it is, please let me know.

    And do reiterate – there is no such thing as “right-brained” as is used in pop culture.

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  17. wildshovel says:

    ” I think the foot is at a different apparent angle, but not objectively bigger or smaller in the different frames. Also, look at the calf, it appears bigger in the allegedly more distant frame.”

    I have to agree. Perhaps there are better frames to compare? Perhaps no two frames would be satisfactory, and one actually needs software to interpolate images between the frames. I will say that after examining the animated image frame by frame, it’s difficult to not to believe there is an objectively correct rotation. The clip doesn’t appear to be specially modified or manipulated to produce the switching effect. It appears simply to be a clip of an actual spinning dancer that has been turned into a silhouette by trivial image processing (i.e. all color hues set to black). If that is so, then deducing the actual spin of the dancer is a matter of simple physics.

    “which way the dancer appears to spin says absolutely nothing about your visuospacial ability. If you can find a validated test to say that it is, please let me know. And do reiterate – there is no such thing as “right-brained” as is used in pop culture.”

    You raise a valid point. The conclusion I offered in my previous post was offered less as an endorsement of left-right brain theory, and more a way to state my doubts about the image being a good metric.

  18. mlewis says:

    Here’s my take on this – i’ve added a bit of info (in the form of grey lines) to certain frames to suggest that the spinning lady is going either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and posted each .gif next to each other. Cover each up, and you’ll believe she’s either standing on her left or right leg and spinning one direction or another. Look at them both, and you can tell that they are the exact same same .gif frames!

    Enjoy –

  19. SnapDragon says:

    I also think there actually is a correct answer to which way she is spinning, and the key is in the shadow of her raised foot. It only spins counterclockwise. When the girl turns clockwise, this shadow is backwards from what it should be: you should see the shadow when her foot is extended away from you, as it traverses along the back, but not when it’s pointed towards you. Like it does when she spins counterclockwise.

  20. byrdland49 says:

    Very simple. Look at the dancer, and then close your eyes. Visualize her moving in the opposite direction. When you open your eyes, she’ll be moving that way. Close your eyes and visualize once again, this time moving the opposite way. Open your eyes….

    I can have her switch directions almost instantaneously using this methodology. It is pretty freaky though 🙂

  21. JoH says:

    Thought this link would be interesting:


    It has two edited versions of the animation, each giving a different “clue” as to which leg is in the front or in the back. Illusion completely disappears immediately.

  22. JoH says:

    OK,ok… I should open my eyes before posting a duplicate %-/

  23. longhaircook says:

    Great article. If I look directly at the graphic I only see it spinning clockwise. If I look at the text around the graphic it will spin counter-clockwise or back and forth.

    I have a question about the man in the coffee beans graphic. Is there only supposed to be 1 man? I see 2. 1 is directly center looking down to the lower left head to mid-torso shot with dark shoulder length hair similar to a gladiator profile where the torso is facing you and the head is turned and is only a 3/4 of the size of the other man. The other is the head in the lower left coming through the beans.

  24. Bass44 says:

    Ahem… There ARE those of us who,for one reason or another, are born WITHOUT a Corpus Callosum. I am such a one. And viewing this “illusion” it appears at first to be spinning clockwise. Only by deliberately concentrating on specific areas of the image can the direction be changed,so perhaps there is something to the right-brain/left-brain theory,after all?

  25. von_gobben says:

    Not only was I able to have her switch directions quickly….I was able to have the image swing the foot/body just left and right…..without doing any full turns.So did a friend of mine who I showed this to.
    There was no need to close my eyes,rather better if I just stared…….. as one would do into a holographic print.Focus on the toe of the foot not on the ground and tada!
    Peanut man was too easy….hummmmmmm.
    Sometimes…ok ok..most of the time, we tend to over think or second guess.Some things are no brainers…forget right and left.((-:
    Now I am sad.Once one figures out what the illusion of anything is…the majick is gone forever.)-:

  26. ellabella says:

    Wow, that took a while but eventually my left brain caught up (!) or at least that;s what they’re telling me and I can get this girl to go anticlockwise.

    On the basketball and gorilla video, another one to look out for is the remake of the movie The Italian Job (with Mark Walberg), just as their final heist is getting started and they blow up the road if you look carefully amongst the hayhem, you’ll spot a SUPERHERO make an entrance.

  27. truesouth says:

    I can easily switch directions and I have passed onto others the technique and it is totally reliable for me and those I have told it to. When I generally look at it, she is spinning clockwise. When I look to the left – several inches – she will shift diretions in my peripheral vision and then I can look straight at her and she will still go that way. If I want her to go back to clockwise, I just look several inches to the right and she will shift direction to clockwise. Works quickly each time and playing with my eyes and I can back here go back and forth in opposite directions, not appearing to go all the way around.

  28. eafraim says:

    I think this may have less to do with how you see the dancer, and more to do with how you visualize the invisible clock.

  29. jonesrob says:

    I only see her spinning clockwise. My wife freaked out as she said she was spinning counter wise then switched to clockwise.
    My 10 year old son can make her switch too.

    I did the basketball one too, yes I did see the trick but ignored it.
    Not as cool as the spinning gal.

    I am a bit lopsided though. I am very strong in math (curve breaker) and so so at writing, English etc. I am not well balanced.
    Physics is duck soup while writing is a chore to me.

    Not sure if that has any bearing on why I can’t reverse her.
    Wondering if any other lopsided people can’t reverse her.

  30. huntressristich says:

    At first I could only see the clockwise motion. The longer I looked the more certain I became. But, after looking away and reading something for a while, I looked again, but this time I looked first at the bottom of the photo and looked up the photo rather than fromt the top down or straight on. When I looked from the bottom of the photo up to the top of the photo she was definitely spinning counterclockwise. Thinking about numbers or words did not cause this directional change to occur, but rather it is dependent upon how the eye moves over the photo. I feel I have solved the puzzle of how the illusion works.

  31. miriam580616@hotmail.com says:

    Since I find that it is always possible to switch the spinning girl, but difficult, and since I find that I always start with her clockwise and have to “exhaust” that perception, I would like to know:

    1. Are people like me – do they tend to have a preferred direction?

    2. If so, why? What, if anything, is happening perceptually that can be associated with this preference?

    3. Can this preference be “relearned” so that upon first glance one sees it spinning in the other direction.

    4. Can this learning be generalized to other illusions?

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  33. Dear Professer:
    Thank you very much for your sparing your precious time to read my letter.I am a Chinese student who just has finished the university entrance exam and facing the problem of chose a profession. And I love math and so I want to choose the math as what I will major in in the university . And I see the word from the http://www.readnrock.com/?p=38 and I copied it below. I think I did it without covering any of the section of the spinning dancer. And it can change as soon as the change of my will and all goes stable not after a long time. And because there is no word talking about the link between the picture and the one’s iq in this passage. I become unsure about it. And there is also another word give the different conclusion like that “Anti-clockwise rotation, suddenly become clockwise, then IQ is above 160!” on many websites.
    (Here is the word I copy directly from http://www.readnrock.com/?p=38.
    “If you see this lady turning clockwise you are using your right brain.
    If you see her turning anti-clockwise, you are using your left brain.
    Some people can see her turning both ways, but most people see her only one way.
    See if you can make her go one way and then the other by shifting the brain’s current.
    If you can switch between seeing her turn either way at will without shifting your gaze, your IQ is above 160 … which is almost at genius level!
    This was devised at Yale University for a 5 year study on the human brain and its functions.
    Only 14% of the US population can see her move both ways.”)
    Billy Guan
    Saturday, June 25, 2011

  34. 70541 says:

    I can make her switch with a short 5 second bit of concentration back and forth.

    Causes me a headache though.

  35. 70541 says:

    In order to do it I stare at the picture and while I cant exactly describe what I do because its almost instinctual I forcibly blur my vision and refocus with and concentrate on the image and 9/10 times within 5 seconds the rotations switch. Back and forth. If I take my eyes off it the image stays that rotation until I focus it back to the previous and it stays that again.

  36. I don’t think this was a real mind bender. I believe it is an animation that changes direction randomly.

  37. Einstein says:

    Actually I think the “spinning girl” picture is a prank. She changes direction on purpose. I had a feeling this was a bunch of bull but couldn’t figure out a way to prove it to myself. Until I tried the following:

    Proof: Right click the pic and save a copy to your desktop. Now resize your browser and open up the picture that you saved to your desktop so that both are visible at the same time. At times, they both will be spinning in opposite directions.

    Nice try.

  38. tmac57 says:

    Einstein- You are wrong about your theory. This is just an optical/mental illusion. The best way to prove it,is to get several people to look at the image at the same time. You will see that some will see it spinning clockwise,while at the same time others will see it going counter clockwise,and when it changes for one person,it won’t for another. But don’t take my word for it,do the experiment yourself. Just remember,not to bias the other participants by telling them what they should be seeing,just ask,what they see.

  39. Einstein says:

    You know what, after further investigation, I think I was wrong. I can get it to change direction whenever I want now just by looking at it. The trick is to use her foot’s shadow.

  40. Steve G says:

    Several Years ago I saw the woman spinning anti-clockwise and with a little effort I could make her change direction.

    But due to obvious changes in the way I was processing data, I took a lot of tests again. The woman now spins clockwise for me and I simply cannot make her spin the other way. I was not surprised.

    I took a whole battery of tests of brain function and the results were all the same. I’m now extremely right brained. Another tests says I’m 32% left brained and 68% right brained. I was not surprised.

    I now longer think in words. It’s all images and just “knowing”. It’s much more efficient and very fast. My best friend now calls me a Mentalist due to the way I can see future events with extreme clarity. I sure have freaked him out a few times and we have a good laugh about it. My ex wife was freaked out to the extent that she actually blamed me for making bad things happen and demanded I stop doing it, but I cannot. So I had to end the relationship. Others tell my I’m just plain psychic. And a very gifted one at that. And because of what I can now do, I’ve become very spiritual. I needed something to hold me down into reality and to give me direction and purpose. I can help people who truly need it in ways that defy conventional psychology.

    I now have the gift of music as well. I learned to play the guitar in just 3 months and I’m now a gifted singer song writer and getting better at it very quickly. I love music. I can sing as well.


  41. twoscorpiobabies says:

    Hi all, new to here… neat reading everyone’s comments, we’re all a little bit off, and here’s something fun to do with the spinning girl. I enjoy watching her switch directions at will.

    Here’s MY trick, for the spinning girl – it works for me, and might work for you too…

    Look at the leg on the ground, picture it as a RIGHT LEG, she spins to the LEFT, picture it as her LEFT LEG, she spins to the RIGHT. Commit your self to this, say it in your head (or aloud if you can ha ha) and it will glitch almost, then switch 🙂 Enjoy!!


    Oh, and P.S., I was looking for the “man” like a seeing eye thing in the beans, and it needs to be said, it is a REAL face, of a man…. which as soon as I saw it, I was actually startled by seeing him!

  42. SUSANA says:

    Hi, i’m new here in this website.

    I have a doubt. My husband and I saw the spinning dancer but he never saw her turning in both sides. what does it means??? he only saw her turning into the clockwise.

    Thank you!!

  43. calzadao1 says:

    Well I sat down and seen the dancer spin both left and right the more i stared, i figure it was my mind trying to make sense of it. But i primarily seen her go Clockwise first, but the more I stared the more I wanted to say she went counter Clockwise.

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