Psychologist Shares Photos of a Bizarre Optical Illusion Called the Thatcher Effect

Dr. Julie Smith went viral on TikTok when she shared examples of this psychological phenomenon called the Thatcher effect.

Prepare yourself for another level of uncanny valley.

The optical illusions that follow are sure to melt your brain.


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♬ Dr Julie Smith The Thatcher Effect – Dr Julie Smith – Psychologist

This is the low down on the Thatcher effect, according to Dr. Smith:

“It is a phenomenon in which changes in facial features that are very obvious in an upright face are much more difficult to identify when the face is upside down.

This is thought to happen because our brains are so finely tuned to recognizing faces in the upright position.”

That makes perfect sense, since we’re all looking at each other right side up most of the time. Still not totally clear on what’s so off, yet? No worries – here are a few familiar faces to help illustrate how wild this psychological trick is.

I used to love Kanye, and then this happened.

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

Adele’s latest album cover went for a more modern look.

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

Man, Obama looks so different these days.

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

Who in their right mind would take the time to discover such a weird effect?

According to Smith, the illusion originated when University of York Professor Peter Thompson demonstrated it on a photo of the British Prime Minster at the time, Margaret Thatcher.

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

No matter how long you stare at the inverted edit, it just can’t manage to look even remotely normal. Somehow, the inverted features on the already upside-down face still seem pretty natural. Here’s a more in-depth explanation of what exactly our brains are adjusting to when we look at those edits on the right, courtesy of Smith:

“This is thought to happen because our brains are so finely tuned to recognizing faces in the upright position.

It has been hypothesized that the cognitive processes involved in face recognition rely as much on the structural relationship between features as the features themselves. For example, the configuration between eyes, nose, and mouth.”

Well, there’s one more cool mind trick you can play on your friends. Alternatively, this could be a really unique (weird?) way to pay tribute to your favorite celebrities.

Do you have any Thatcher effect edits up your sleeve? Are there any other optical illusions you’ve come across that have totally sent you for a loop? Share them with us in the comments below!