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Pop Culture

First impressions: People say this optical illusion reveals if you're an optimist or a pessimist

Which way is the cat going?

cat illusion, optimism and pessimism, minds journal
via 9Gag

Is the cat going up or down the stairs?

An image that initially went viral eight years ago is having a second life as a fun personality quiz. The Minds Journal published a picture of a cat on a flight of stairs, and it claims that if your first impression of the photo was that the cat was walking up the stairs, you are an optimist. But if you think the cat is walking down the stairs, you are a pessimist.

The image first appeared at 9Gag in 2015.

According to The Minds Journal, you are an optimist who sees “potential and growth” wherever you look if you see the cat walking upstairs. “Your mind has been trained to look at ways of rising higher in life, so given a situation where you have the choice of rising higher than others or falling to their levels, you would inevitably be the better person.”


However, if you saw the cat going downstairs, you are a pessimist.

“It may have been based on your experiences in life or just because of the sort of people you may have met that tilted your view of life towards the negative side,” The Minds Journal's article says. “But this means that you don’t trust easily now, you calculate before you commit and you are wary of people who seem too sweet,” the article continues.

cat illusion, optical illusions, optimists and pessimists

Which way is the cat walking?

via 9gag

So what’s the truth? Is the cat walking up or down the stairs?

Here’s the argument for the “down” folks or, as The Minds Journal would call them, pessimists.

Here's the argument from the “up” people or optimists.

Business Insider took a hard stance, saying it’s “obvious” that the cat is going downstairs. “First, look at the architecture of the stairwell. The nose of the stair treads is overhanging the riser, which has a pebbled texture,” Business Insider says.

“Plus, if you look closely, there’s even a slight shadow under the overhanging nose of the stair treads,” the argument continues. “These shadows would only be visible if the cat was going down the stairs towards the viewer who is looking upstairs. The light coming from the upstairs landing is causing the shadow of the tread to fall on the riser.”

Here’s a visual explainer:

Obviously, a simple reaction to a photo of a cat is a far from perfect way to determine one’s personality. But research shows that optimists and pessimists have explicit biases when interpreting the world around them. It could also decide whether or not they thought the cat was walking up the stairs to greet its owner walking down the stairs to avoid a predator.

“To use the common expression, the optimist focuses his attention on the glass half full; that is, an optimist selects the positive/reinforcing cues from the environment, and tends to filter and ignore information that does not match his brighter outlook,” David Hecht writes in Experimental Biology.

“A pessimist tends to do the exact opposite. In general, a pessimist's attention is focused on the glass half empty; i.e. the pessimist allocates a disproportionately greater attention to the negative cues, while tending to forget the positive aspects of a situation,” Hecht continues.

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