Myth or Fact? ‘Monalisa Effect’ Debunked by Scientists

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa can be considered one of the most expensive, most popular, most controversial, most written about and most parodied work of art in the world. Almost every inch of the painting was being scrutinized, from the painting’s background to the smile which does not seem like a smile.

CITEC/Bielefeld University

Now let’s talk about the eyes. Many people are getting nuts about the gaze of Mona Lisa and the so-called Mona Lisa Effect. In a recent study, researchers from the Bielefeld University debunked the Mona Lisa Effect on the world-famous painting.

What is Mona Lisa Effect?

Mona Lisa Effect or Mona Lisa Gaze Effect according to The Visual Compendium of Visual Illusions is a term in science which refers to the phenomenon in which certain portraits or images appear to be directing their gaze towards the viewers. This is regardless of where the viewers are located with regards to the picture.

The phenomenon has been discussed since as early as 2,000 years ago, way before da Vinci’s painting was created. The effect does not depend on how the viewers move about in front of the picture, instead, on the perception of the gaze direction.

So… the Mona Lisa Effect is real. But what are these so-called experts clamoring for? Well, ironically enough, they say its namesake, the painting Mona Lisa itself, does not exhibit the Mona Lisa Effect.

Mona Lisa Effect Does Not Exist in Mona Lisa

In the study published in the scientific journal i-Perception, Dr. Gernot Horstmann and Dr. Sebastian Loth from the Cluster of Excellence CITEC in Bielefeld University revealed that Mona Lisa’s eyes in the portrait are slightly directed to the right side of the viewer instead.

CITEC/ Bielefeld University

“The effect itself is undeniable and demonstrable,” Dr. Loth stated. “But with the Mona Lisa, of all paintings, we didn’t get this impression.”

To back their claims the researchers used folding rulers to measure the gaze of the painting. They tried more than 2000 assessments from various angles and positions. However, the results revealed that in most of the measurements, Mona Lisa’s gaze was not on the viewer but on the right-hand side of the viewer. To be exact, the angle of the gaze was 15.4 degrees on average.

Horstmann further explains the implication of their study:

“People can feel like they’re being looked at from both photographs and paintings – if the person portrayed looks straight ahead out of the image, that is, at a gaze angle of 0 degrees. With a slightly sideward glance, you may still feel as if you were being looked at. This was perceived as if the portrayed person were looking at your ear, and corresponds to about 5 degrees from a normal viewing distance. But as the angle increases, you would not have the impression of being looked at.”

Dr. Gernot Horstmann, Bielefeld University.

To sum it up the Monalisa Effect, the phenomenon itself is REAL. It can be observed in other paintings or images. In fact, you don’t need to look that far, this effect is used is most avatars or virtual characters for assistive systems or computer games.

However, clearly the “term Mona Lisa Effect is nothing but a misnomer-” an inaccurate name designation, But they can’t just change the name of a long existing term, can’t they?