Purdue University Graduate School
2023.11.16 Jakicic (FINAL).pdf (2.74 MB)


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posted on 2023-11-17, 19:51 authored by Victoria L JakicicVictoria L Jakicic

The Black Hole Illusion (BHI) is a nighttime aviation landing illusion where pilots overestimate their descent angle. The BHI occurs when only the outline of the runway is visible to pilots, usually at night with little illumination of the environment. This illusion is dangerous, as it causes pilots to perceive themselves at a high descent angle; and they compensate by flying lower, resulting in a possible crash into the ground or obstacles before the runway. A common interpretation of the BHI is that it represents a perceptual illusion, where the descent angle is misperceived. We quantitatively analyzed two different perceptual theories that predict pilots perceived descent angle during the BHI experience; and we also quantitatively analyzed another perceptual theory to apply during nighttime approaches to alleviate the disorientation experienced from the BHI. Of the first two theories, Perrone's algorithm (Perrone, 1983) predicts that the magnitude of the illusion should vary with runway width/length in nighttime conditions, compared to no illusion and no effect of runway width/length in daylight conditions. On the other hand, the eye-level algorithm (adapted from the work in Galanis, Jennings, and Beckett (1998) and Robinson, Williams, and Biggs (2020)) predicts that there should be no effect of runway width/length in either nighttime or daylight conditions. The last algorithm, the focus of expansion algorithm (adapted from the theory of Gibson (1950) and Gibson (1966)), details a way that pilots can obtain the landing position of their aircraft without estimating their angle of descent, thereby alleviating possible disorientation experienced during nighttime approaches. Additionally, we conducted three empirical studies: The first two aimed at testing Perrone's algorithm and the eye-level algorithm; and the third aimed at testing the focus of expansion algorithm. Across the first two empirical studies, we did demonstrate a BHI for the nighttime evaluations of descent angle; but the data did not support either algorithm. In the third empirical study, the data did not support the focus of expansion algorithm; however, we found that participants were more accurate with estimating the aircraft's landing position when the landing position was closer to the beginning of the runway. Overall, we conclude that the BHI may reflect general disorientation in conditions with limited information.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Psychological Sciences

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Gregory S. Francis

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Yu-Chin Chiu

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Anne B. Sereno

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Sebastien Helie

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