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The Physiognomy of the Mueller-Lyer Figure

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image of Journal of Phenomenological Psychology

The thematic survey of traditional literature uncovered a pressing need to study the M-L figure as a phenomenon in its own right. A design was constructed intending to evoke the figure's full phenomenal appearance. Instead of framing a highly determinate structure wherein a specific question is posed, E presented the figure to naive Ss, simply asking them to describe it. The purpose was to ascertain what naive Ss would perceive if not encumbered by a prior set. In addition, five experiential questions about the descriptive task were included, aiming to elucidate and render intelligible the factual perceptions. The results showed that the M-L figure appears physiognomically. Typical responses exhibiting stylistic variation pointed to the dialectic between perceiver and perceived thing. A second finding was that the perception of equal horizontal lines as unequal emerged as a predominant, but only one of several possible ways of resolving the M-L figure's many perceptual possibilities. In fact, the data revealed a trend that elucidates the conditions which make possible the "M-L effect." Finally, "direction-orientation," a phenomenal variable elucidated by Merleau-Ponty's notions about the body and perception, emerged as the most characteristic way of perceiving the experimental figure.


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