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Only Non-Depressed See Monster In The Mirror

Only Non-Depressed See Monster In The Mirror

See the monster in the mirror? If so, you are not depressed.

“And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist. In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room.”

As you may have guessed, this is an excerpt from “Through the looking glass and what Alice found there” by Lewis Carrol. What would you say if I would tell you that you could be like Alice, or even like Snow White’s stepmother, and see things that are not really there in the mirror? On top of that, what would you say if I would tell you that this is normal and if you wouldn’t see them, you would be suffering from depression?

The monster

Try this experiment and you will have goosebumps all over your body: stare at your face in the mirror in a dimly lit room. Keep staring at yourself for a few minutes. Hey, wait! What was that? Did you see it? Was it a monster, an animal, your deformed face, someone else you know, or a stranger?

It was totally creepy, but you can relax: you have not evoked the Devil, what you saw is absolutely normal. Professor Caputo from Urbino in Italy first experienced this himself in 2004. Instead of running away or breaking all the reflective surfaces he encountered, he decided to face the issue and dig into it. His scientific perseverance allowed him to provide an explanation of the phenomenon in 2010.

Your subconscious

He thinks that the illusion experienced is not due to some perception tricks, like in trompe l’oeil, but that it’s more likely to be a self-identity illusion. This means that your mental state has an impact on what you see. For example, schizophrenics frequently see many faces surrounding theirs, which express their split personalities. In addition, it has recently been discovered that people suffering from depression are less likely to experience these illusions in the mirror; the healthier you are, the airier your visions become. It is fascinating to think that maybe one day this simple test will replace the Rorschach inkblot test to diagnose mental disorders.

This may not make sense at first glance, since we mostly base our experience on vision. The point is that, although it has no physical appearance, we see our subconscious, which we would not be able to observe otherwise. Our mind is intriguing and sometimes, as Renaissance man Pascal said, has reasons that the reason cannot know. The relationship we have with it “is an ambiguous one, between beings who are both embodied and limited and an enigmatic world”, to quote French philosopher Merleau-Ponty.

This is not the only way our perception can fool us. What would you say if I would tell you that you could feel like Alice when her body was shrinking and blowing up? But this is next time’s story. Stay tuned!

Caputo, G. (2010). Strange-face-in-the-mirror illusion Perception, 39 (7), 1007-1008 DOI: 10.1068/p6466
Caputo GB (2010). Apparitional experiences of new faces and dissociation of self-identity during mirror gazing. Perceptual and motor skills, 110 (3 Pt 2), 1125-38 PMID: 20866001
Caputo GB, Bortolomasi M, Ferrucci R, Giacopuzzi M, Priori A, & Zago S (2014). Visual perception during mirror-gazing at one’s own face in patients with depression. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2014 PMID: 25506077

Chiara Civardi

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  • Ola
    February 24, 2015, 15:08

    People with Schizophrenia do not have split personalities. That is multiple personality disorder – an entirely different mental illness.

    • Chiara Civardi@Ola
      February 24, 2015, 16:35

      Sorry, maybe my translation from Italian was not corrected enough. I quote from Prof. Caputo “Schizophrenia is a pathology where the self is like fragmented into pieces”. Is it better?

  • Lgreen
    February 25, 2015, 04:36

    When I first read the tittle of this article, I thought to myself that this couldn’t be right. Why would someone who is not depressed see monsters in the mirror over person going through depression? normally, when you look at the mirror you see your face and as time goes on you would start noticing more details about your face. This experiment plays on your perceptions and experience. I feel that starring at myself in the mirror while in a dimly lit room will automatically make me see something that isn’t there. A fear of the dark or a horror movie I may have seen about mirrors. To say that this is a self identity illusion would assume that we all see ourselves as monsters, which I don’t believe to be true.

    • Chiara Civardi@Lgreen
      February 25, 2015, 16:51

      Interesting comment. I would guess that the horror movie may play a role 🙂
      My background is not in psychology, so I am not sure if the following reasoning may or not be correct. The thing is that the “strange face” illusions are various: as I said, you may see your face distorted, your parents etc., not necessarily monsters, and even if you see monsters this may not mean you feel ugly. So, if you see a relative/ a pet of yours, this may indicate the relationship you have with him/her; if you see some parts of you as distorted this may give an indication on some other kind of thoughts. What do you think? Does it sound reasonable?
      I think anyway that this finding needs further investigations, also to see if something happens in the brain.