Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Even when they know they're not.

Riders on the Hong Kong Peak Tram continue to perceive that skyscrapers are falling down, despite their knowledge that the buildings are structurally sound.

Our vision overrides our sense of gravity -- and our common sense -- to create a tenacious illusion of tilt, researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the University of Freiberg have found. At night, the effect is even worse. Standing, on the other hand, can reduce the illusion -- perhaps by raising a rider's awareness of the force of gravity.

The study, "Falling Skyscrapers: When Cross-Modal Perception of Verticality Fails," is published in Psychological Science, required hundreds of trips up Hong Kong's Victoria Peak. Even for experienced riders, the illusion that buildings were tipping over was persistent.

Graphic courtesy of Chia-huei Tseng et al.

Top image: Tyrone Siu/Reuters.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Equity

    Berlin Will Freeze Rents for Five Years

    Local lawmakers agreed to one of Europe’s most radical rental laws, but it sets the stage for a battle with Germany’s national government.

  2. A photo of a new apartment building under construction in Boston.
    Equity

    In Massachusetts, a ‘Paper Wall’ of Zoning Is Blocking New Housing

    Despite the area’s progressive politics, NIMBY-minded residents in and around Boston are skilled in keeping multi-family housing at bay.

  3. A photo of Madrid's Gran Via
    Environment

    Is This the End of the Road for Madrid’s Car Ban?

    With more conservative leadership moving in after elections, the Spanish capital’s pollution-fighting regulations on private vehicles may be in danger.

  4. A photo of a Google employee on a bicycle.
    Equity

    How Far Will Google’s Billion-Dollar Bay Area Housing Plan Go?

    The single largest commitment by a private employer to address the Bay Area’s acute affordable housing crisis is unique in its focus on land redevelopment.

  5. Environment

    Paris Wants to Grow ‘Urban Forests’ at Famous Landmarks

    The city plans to fill some small but treasured sites with trees—a climate strategy that may also change the way Paris frames its architectural heritage.

×