Book Definition: Images that are capable of more than one interpretation. There is no "right" way to see an ambiguous figure.

In Your Own Words

  • A picture or image that can be seen in different ways.
  • They deal with having your mind look at things and being able to perceive a completely different image.

Often, ambiguous figures are confused with illusions. However, they are two separate things.


There are countless examples of Ambiguous Figures. Here are a few images.

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  • This picture is ambiguous because it can be seen as either a rabbit or a duck.

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    • The Necker Cube is a famous example of an ambiguous figure. It can be seen from two different points of view. It tricks the mind into seeing bars that cross infront of each other even though we know that spatially that is impossible.

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  • In this picture you can see blue arrows or pink arrows depending on your personal perception.
W.E. Hill in Puck magazine
W.E. Hill in Puck magazine

This image is very famous. It is ambiguous because there are 2 images that can be viewed. One is an old lady with a large nose and large chin. The other is a young woman facing the back with the old lady's nose from the other image making her chin.

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This one can appear to be a white vase on black, OR two silhouetted faces looking at each other on a white background.

- c4b_sinnott_sarah c4b_sinnott_sarah Apr 29, 2012Any image that can have more than one distinct interpretation can be considered an ambiguous figure.- c4b_sinnott_sarah c4b_sinnott_sarah Apr 29, 2012~

Additional Resources



A Study was done in 2005 on the effect of bilingualism on reversing ambiguous figures. the test subjects were children all around the age of six. In the study, researchers found that the bilingual children had an easier and quicker time on finding the "other" figure in the picture, whereas the monolingual children had a hard time finding anything other than what they originally saw. Reasoning for these findings is linked to the perception of the children's brains, the bilingual children's brains have been "trained" to identify more than one meaning in a figure/word, making it easier for them to decipher the images.

In 1977 an experiment was done to test the knowledge of the reversibility of reversible figures. High school students were shown 2 different reversible pictures. One was the vase-face figure and the other was depth-reversing pyramid-hallway figure. In this first part of the experiment known as the Uninformed condition the students were unaware that the pictures were reversible. After 5 seconds the students reported what they saw in the figure. After 3 minutes about half of the students did not reverse during the uninformed condition. As soon as they were told that the figures were reversible, almost all of the students quickly reversed. "These results are not consistent with neural fatigue models of perceptual reversal."

An experiment was done with 40 patients with posterior brain damage and with 20 normal control subjects that were tested with an ambiguous figures task (AFT). For each figure that was to be shown they had to identify both ambiguous images. If you could not identify the second image you were prompted with the name of the image not yet perceived. Patients with the posterior brain damage exhibited greater difficulty in shifting from one aspect of an ambiguous figure to the other, than the patients with more posterior lesions and control subjects. Patients with poor performances on the AFT can be considered as a “frontal lobe sign” of perceptual perseveration.