30 Optical Illusions That Will Make Your Brain Hurt

Updated: May 19, 2024

From spinning circles to disappearing dots, these insane optical illusions aren't what they appear to be. Are you ready to have your mind blown?

Before jumping on in we have one question on our minds: what is an optical illusion?

What is an optical illusion?

Optical illusions are visuals that tend to be deceptive to the eye and brain. This is based on numerous factors including varying colors, patterns, lights, and more! When looking at these images what we see gets sent to our brains, and a false perception is created as the image our brain processes isn’t actually what is in front of us. Different people will often see these illusions differently which is completely normal since everyone’s brain works in different ways—talk about perspective!

Do you think you have what it takes to figure out these optical illusions? There are so many types of illusions and we’ve rounded up the best of famous illusions, color illusions, pattern illusions, illusory motion illusions, and literal illusions. Scroll on down to see 30 of these illusions in their respective categories and put your mind to the test! Once you’re done, don’t forget to check out these visual puzzles and brain teasers that will leave you stumped.

Famous illusions

Cafe wall illusion

1Barsukov Vladimir/shutterstock
These lines appear to be angled up or down, but the horizontal lines are actually all parallel. Need proof? Try covering the top and bottom of one line of squares with a piece of paper. No slants to be found!

Muller-Lyer illusion

11Peter Hermes Furian/shutterstock
Which horizontal line is shorter: the top or the bottom? Trick question—they’re the same size, even though your mind perceives the one with outward wings to be longer. While these optical illusions seem hard to figure out give yourself a break and check out 20 rebus puzzles that are almost impossible to solve!

Zöllner illusion

stitched lines illusionCourtesy Lenstore
Are these long diagonal lines parallel? They sure don’t look it, but they are! Removing the smaller “stitch”-like lines shows the truth about this optical illusion.

Scintillating grid illusion

An oldie but goodie, you may have seen the scintillating grid illusion before! Your brain thinks there’s a black dot inside each white circle—until you focus on each individual white circle. Then you realize it was never there at all. These images can be quite deceiving so put your eye to the test and see how many triangles are in this puzzle.

Spinning dancer illusion

This infamous silhouette of a dancer changes direction but do you know how? It’s all based on your bistable perception—when our brain sees a 2D in two different perspectives. The reason why we believe it moves is because our brains are trying to create space around the dancer!

Ponzo illusion

One of these yellow lines seems longer than the other. If you look closely, you’ll realize they’re both the exact same length. It’s based on our perception and we tend to see this image with a linear perspective which makes the top yellow line look longer than the yellow line at the bottom. Imagine driving and seeing a line up ahead. As you get closer the line appears to be larger and when we pass it, it appears smaller! If this was easy, check out 25 of the most challenging riddles ever.

Elephant optical illusion

How many legs does the elephant have? At first glance, the answer maybe be obvious – but look a little closer, and this fiendish illusion reveals itself.

The elephants we see have four legs but this one is throwing us a doozy. If we look closely you’ll see this elephant also only has four legs! Artist Roger Shepard left natural space blank causing confusion and making our brains think the space is supposed to be a leg. Still confused? Cover up the feet and you’ll see the four legs.

Illusory motion illusions

Spinning seeds


Your eyes will keep jumping to the spinning sunbursts of seeds—even though they’re all staying still. Give your eyes a break and solve 11 of the most famous riddles in history.

Rotating circles


When your eyes dart to one seemingly spinning circle, the others around them appear to start rotating. Your eyes don’t know where to look! Find out what a red spot on your eye means.


12Mark Grenier/shutterstock

Looks like the background is spinning around a circle, but both are staying completely still. Boost your brainpower even more with these brain games.

Moving right along

Polka dot ball rolling along the polka dot surface. Abstract vector optical illusion illustration. Extravagant background and tile of seamless wallpaper.Guten Tag Vector/Shutterstock

It looks like the background underneath the sphere is moving downward, like a conveyer belt or a slow treadmill. But we promise this is a completely still image!

Ripple effect

The optical illusion of movement executed in the form of fluctuating pink and lilac polygonsSkripnichenko Tatiana/Shutterstock

Are you sure the circles in this image aren’t moving? Are you sure they’re not rippling in a wavelike motion? But really—are you positive? This happens because of a lag in the way we process looking at one aspect of the image to another causing our brain to think there is movement. Our smarts are being tested! Continue your momentum by solving 12 logic puzzles.

Spinning colors

10Andrey Korshenkov/Shutterstock

Optical illusions like this will leave you dazed and confused. The colors seem to be swirling around, even though it’s a still image.

Pattern illusions

Hidden message

3Olga Feldman/shutterstock

Lose your focus a bit (seriously—try to go a little cross-eyed) and you’ll spot a secret message hidden in the black dots. Take a closer look, though, and the words will disappear from sight.

Innie or outie?


Is the smallest point of this black and white illusion pointing in or sticking out? It’s anyone’s guess due to the contrasting lines.

All about perspective


Can you figure out which of these windows is bigger? Not only are they the exact same size, but their tops and bottoms are also directly in line with each other. Talk about a new perspective! Keep challenging the way you view things by looking at 25 photos of everyday things taken from a side you rarely see.

Large and small

8Peter Hermes Furian/shutterstock

Which blue dot is bigger: the one on the left or the one on the right? Good for you if you guessed the same size! The left just looks smaller compared to the big circles and empty space around it.

New squares


At first glance, the four diamonds in this picture pop right out. But look closer—there’s not a single line creating those shapes. The contrast between the black and white makes your brain assume they exist. Next, can you identify everyday objects by these close-up pictures?

Connected lines

Poggendorff geometrical optical illusion. The red line appears to be continuing behind the gray rectangle but it is the blue line. Misperception of a position. Illustration on white background. VectorPeter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock

Which of the two lines on the right side of the gray rectangle connects to the one on the left side? As you can see from the image on the right, it’s the one on the bottom (labeled in blue)—not the one on the top! When you can’t see the whole picture (literally), these optical illusions can seriously throw you for a loop.

Wacky squares

Optical illusion - red squares look distorted - with explanation on the rightNahhana/Shutterstock

Some of these optical illusions make your head spin! In the optical illusion on the left, the red squares look warped and crooked, like something out of a funhouse. But on the right, when the crazy arrangement of black and white lines is faded to almost nothing, you can see that the red squares are actually as straight and square as can be. If you think you can handle it, check out 15 word puzzles that will leave you stumped.

Tilted towers

tilted towers illusionCourtesy Lenstore

Is one of these leaning towers leaning more than the other? It certainly looks like it, but no! The two images are identical; the way they’re positioned next to each other makes the one on the right look steeper.

Squiggly squares

optical illusionpicoStudio/Shutterstock
The lines that make up these squares are completely straight—yes, all of them, even the ones in the middle! The placement of the miniature squares-within-the-squares warps the lines and makes them look curved. If that was a piece of cake, you’ve got golden eyes. Put them to the test even more and see if you can find the hidden object in a sea of watermelons!

Bending lines

bending lines illusionCourtesy Lenstore
These red lines might look curved outward—but they’re completely straight!

Hidden arch

hidden arch illusionCourtesy Lenstore
Under the post, are the lines of this archway meeting in the middle? They sure are! The post makes the lines look mismatched, but sure enough, they connect! Ready to keep making that brain of yours work? See if you can pass a short IQ test and put your smarts to the test.

Standing tall

standing tall illusionCourtesy Lenstore
Which of these monsters charging through the catacombs is taller? More optical illusions that use the background to trick you! Without the backdrop, you can see that these two freaky fellows are exactly the same—including their height.

Color illusions

How many colors?

how many colorsCourtesy Lenstore
Can you figure out how many colors are in this image in total? Did you guess four? Turns out it’s only three! The square in the upper right of this image looks like it contains blue and pink stripes; the one in the lower left seems to have green and orange ones. But, believe it or not, the “blue” and “green” are actually the exact same color!

RELATED: Fewer Than 1 Percent of People Can Pass This Color Test. Can You?

Gray area

gray area illusionCourtesy Lenstore
Which of the labeled squares is lighter in color: A or B? This one’s quite the trick: They’re actually the same color! It’s just the shadow of the green cylinder that makes them look like different colors. Speaking of, here’s the science behind people who have different colored eyes.

Pair of pears

green pairs illusion 1Courtesy Lenstore

Which of these pears is lighter in color: the one on the left or the one on the right? Neither, these two pears are exactly the same color! Grab a friend or two and see if they can figure it out and when you’re done solve some of the most challenging jigsaw puzzles you can buy.

green pears answerCourtesy Lenstore

Literal Illusions

Rubin Vase

Vase or face? This is an example of a Rubin Vase, an #opticalillusion named after the Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin, who first developed the trick. Next time you visit us, come check out The Queen’s Speech- a 3D representation of this illusion! #RubinVase #EdgarRubin

— Camera Obscura & World of Illusions (@camobscura) November 10, 2018

Upon first glance do you see the figure of a vase or the side profile of two faces looking at one another? It all depends on the color you choose to focus on. If you look only at the black color, the image of a vase will appear prominently. Focusing on the white will show the side profile of the two individuals.

Boring Figure

— neurocurry (@neurocurry) November 4, 2018

There’s certainly nothing boring about this optical illusion except that it’s named after its artist Edwin Boring. What do you see when you first take a good look at this image? One can either see a young woman looking away or the side profile of an elderly woman. You can see both however our brains can only focus on one at a time. If these optical illusions have your mind going in full gear, this Mensa quiz will surely continue the momentum.