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. a map of future climate risks in the U.S.
    Maps

    America After Climate Change, Mapped

    With “The 2100 Project: An Atlas for A Green New Deal,” the McHarg Center tries to visualize how the warming world will reshape the United States.

  2. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  3. photo: A man boards a bus in Kansas City, Missouri.
    Transportation

    Why Kansas City’s Free Transit Experiment Matters

    The Missouri city is the first major one in the U.S. to offer no-cost public transportation. Will a boost in subsidized mobility pay off with economic benefits?

  4. photo: a Tower Records Japan Inc. store in Tokyo, Japan.
    Life

    The Bankrupt American Brands Still Thriving in Japan

    Cultural cachet, licensing deals, and density explain why Toys ‘R’ Us, Tower Records, Barneys, and other faded U.S. retailers remain big across the Pacific.

  5. Life

    The Death and Life of the 13-Month Calendar

    Favored by leaders in transportation and logistics, the International Fixed Calendar was a favorite of Kodak founder George Eastman, whose company used it until 1989.

×