Pictorial Ambiguity

duck rabbit

Ambiguous figures such as the duck/rabbit above, are figures in which multiple interpretations are possible although the figure itself remains unchanged. Viewers experience the two competing interpretations reversing from one to the other and only one interpretation can be perceived at a time.

I use ambiguous figures as a research tool to see how children conceive (understand) and perceive ambiguity in pictures. This is measured with behavioural and eye-tracking methodologies.

Gaze density

Example of a viewing pattern measured with an eye-tracker. Red indicates long and frequent fixations. This viewer only perceived the "duck" interpretation. Our key findings so far are:


Wimmer, M. C., & Doherty, M. J. (2011). The development of ambiguous figure perception. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 76(1), 1-130.

Wimmer, M. C., & Doherty, M. J. (2010). Children with autism’s perception and understanding of ambiguous figures: Evidence for pictorial metarepresentation, a research note. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28, 627-641.

Wimmer, M. C., & Doherty, M. J. (2007). Investigating children’s eye-movements: Cause or effect of reversing ambiguous figures? In D. S. Namara & J. G. Trafton (Eds.), Proceedings of the 29th Annual Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1659-1664). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Doherty, M. J., & Wimmer, M. C. (2005). Children’s understanding of ambiguous figures: Which cognitive developments are necessary to experience reversal? Cognitive Development, 20, 407-421.