Why Stripes Can Mess With Your Brain

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Photo: Danita Delimont/Getty Images/Gallo Images

Stripes: It’s easy to forget, but they’re kinda weird. At some point or another, looking at a stripy pattern has probably caused you to experience some sort of weird visual distortion. For other people, they can cause even less pleasant symptoms. Why? A fun little piece in The Guardian, part of the un-bylined Pass Notes series, examines this question.

One answer, notes the article, comes from “Research from the Netherlands and the US just published in the journal Current Biology[, which] suggests that looking at intensely stripy things causes an increase in gamma oscillations in the brain, which are associated with headaches and seizures.” But some of these effects are more likely to be inducted by human-created stripes, like those generated by venetian blinds, as compared to natural stripes, like those found on zebras. That’s because “It seems that our brains are not designed to cope with such extreme regularity, as it doesn’t occur in nature. The researchers found that once they distorted the lines slightly or blurred their edges, the oscillations died down.” Bonus stripe fact: Vertical stripes aren’t as bad as horizontal ones, and no one knows why.

Sometimes, things that seem boring are actually very cool.

Why Stripes Can Mess With Your Brain