Moving objects by imagination? Amount of finger movement and pendulum length determine success in the Chevreul pendulum illusion

Debora Cantergi, Bhuvanesh Awasthi, Jason Friedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Hand-held pendulums can seemingly oscillate on their own, without perceived conscious control. This illusion, named after Chevreul, is likely a result of ideomotor movements. While this phenomenon was originally assumed to have a supernatural basis, it has been accepted for over 150 years that the movements are self-generated. However, until now, recordings of the small movements that create these oscillations have not been performed. In this study, we examined how participants produce these unconscious oscillations using a motion capture system. As expected, the Chevreul pendulum illusion was produced when the fingers holding the pendulum generated an oscillating frequency close to the resonant frequency of the pendulum, where very small driving movements of the arm are sufficient to produce relatively large pendulum motion. We found that pendulum length significantly affected the ability to produce the illusion - participants were much more successful with a 40 cm compared to an 80 cm pendulum. Further, we found that participants that tended to move their fingers more were more successful in producing the illusion but did not find a connection between inter-joint coordination and ability to generate the illusion.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102879
JournalHuman Movement Science
Volume80
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Chevreul pendulum illusion
  • Hand-held pendulum
  • Ideomotor theory
  • Oscillating frequency
  • Resonant frequency

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