A recurring theme I’ll hear from my friends in the New York media scene who interview celebrities regularly is that the rich and famous often look odd in-person—eyes or lips or tiny waists that look great on-screen come out a bit too overemphasized in real life. Now you can observe that same effect, thanks to an unlikely source: University of Queensland researchers Jason Tangen, Sean Murphy, and Matthew Thompson.
io9 found a paper by the three, titled Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces. The men discovered an odd optical illusion where, if you’re focused on a point between two photos, those faces will start to warp and look like caricatures of themselves. As they explain,
When cycling through [closely aligned] faces on a computer screen, each face seems to become a caricature of itself and some faces appear highly deformed, even grotesque. The degree of distortion is greatest for faces that deviate from the others in the set on a particular dimension (eg if a person has a large forehead, it looks particularly large).
Because it works best on extremely attractive faces, someone made the above video comparing celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, and Christina Hendricks. Consider that each of these stars has a very distinctive feature: Aniston’s chin, Hendricks’ eyes, Jolie’s lips, etc. You’ll be shocked at how their faces look downright hideous when you’re catching them in your peripheral vision… but the moment you look at them full-on, they’re back to their photogenic selves.
Creepy! But also, it comforts us a little to think that it’s these over-the-top features that make them Hollywood stars, and not some genetic lottery they won over average-looking folks.