Dario Varin and the Neon Color Spreading Illusion

You know how much we love introducing illusions that will leave you hanging. That’s why we’d like you to meet Neon Color Spreading. One of the most popular optical illusions with virtually no explanation, you’ve most likely seen this GOAT before. But, let’s dig a little bit deeper into the history of the illusion, and what we know (or don’t know) about the way that it works. 

The Neon Spreading Illusion was first noted by Italian psychologist Dario Varin in 1971. He initially noted the phenomenon in his book Chromatic Contrast and Diffusion Phenomena. Sadly, since the book was never translated from its original Italian, his discovery had very little initial impact. Neon Color Spreading was actually rediscovered in 1975. This time, by a man named Harrie van Tuijl. His rediscovery is what caused the world to fall in love with the illusion and its glowing, ethereal qualities. 

Though his impact may have been stunted, we’ll never forget Dario Varin for his contribution to the world of illusions.

Dario Varin’s Work

In the scientific field, it’s not uncommon for the same thing to be discovered more than once. Whether that’s because, as in Dario Varin’s case, the initial discovery was not widely known. Or just by pure coincidence. Science, much like illusion, is funny in that two people can find the exact same thing and glean something totally different from it. Varin’s early work almost entirely focused on the perception of colors. So, it’s no surprise that he was the first to discover Neon Color Spreading. Harrie Van Tuijl, also an academic, focused mostly on the glowing appearance of the illusion.

Varin moved on from perception studies to Developmental Psychology. He worked for many years at the University of Milan, as well as other noted Italian institutions before taking leave in 2011.

The Neon Color Spreading Illusion

Like we said before, the Neon Color Spreading illusion is likely one that you’ve seen before. It’s easier to show you this particular illusion rather than try to explain it. We’ll try our best to do both. Start by looking at the image below. Pay particularly close attention to the colored portion.

An example of the Neon Color Spreading Illusion originally discovered by Dario Varin and used for the Museum of Illusions NYC blog.
The Neon Color Spreading Illusion.

What you’re looking at is the Neon Color Spreading effect. The neon blue color appears to form a transparent square overlaid on the black squares. But, as you might be able to guess, there is no neon blue square. The “black squares” are simply just black and blue in color.

What We Know About Neon Color Spreading

We don’t know a lot about why the Neon Color Spreading Illusion works. It’s the generic “brain filling in the gaps” explanation that we’ve given (what feels like) a million times. Much like Kanisza’s Triangle, the brain wants to see a neon blue circle instead of perceiving the image as it actually is. So, the brain provides the image of a neon blue circle. 

Sometimes, it’s as simple as user error. Your brain is just trying to make things easier for you.

Illusions at MOI NYC

Honestly, the only real way to experience illusions is in person. Even a photo-illusion that can be seen online is so much better in real life. At the Museum of Illusions, you can get up close and look at it from different angles. You can also spark up conversations and form opinions about the illusions with other guests, your friends and family, and the MOI NYC staff.

We might be a little biased, but we really think that there’s nothing like NYC in the summertime. Between the nightlife, the food, and the museums- you will never run out of things to do. Whether you’re planning a visit soon, or you’re a local looking to try something new this summer, we think you’ll love our exhibits at the Museum of Illusions. Visiting the MOI is the perfect, family-friendly way to escape the heat for a little while.

Click here to book your tickets. We can’t wait to show you around!