Visual-Perceptual Trick: The Vertigo Inducing Icelandic Waterfall

I have been traveling the last few months which has led me to shirk my blogging, but don’t worry, my thoughts on psychology have lingered throughout. There is one experience that has puzzled me. While in Iceland I was hitch hiking with my fiancée. During our adventure around the “ring road” we encountered many fascinating people and geological formations. The whole trip inspired rich psychological content. But for now (and perhaps surprisingly) I will focus on the geology.

Hitching from Mývatn to Akureyri we stumbled across one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls, Goðafoss. With our fellow traveler (and now friend) we hiked as close as we could and set a picnic. As we sat enjoying our Nutella crackers with apple, mesmerized by the sheer volume and force of water surging over rocks, I began to feel as though the ground was moving. Dizzy, I figured the sun was to blame. I took a swig of water and found my balance restored, but as I recommenced gazing over this spellbinding waterfall vertigo returned. The more I stared into the stream of water the faster and more dramatically the foreground moved toward the sky. “What’s going on?” I wondered. I asked my companions to stare into the water with me. After several woahs, ughs, and stomach turns I thought there must be some visual-perceptual device at play. This is not my specialty and after wracking my brain for some tidbit  from psychology class or the literature I came up empty. Any scientists out there have any idea what might be going on?

Goðafoss, a vertigo inducing, Icelandic waterfall.

Goðafoss, a vertigo inducing, Icelandic waterfall.



2 thoughts on “Visual-Perceptual Trick: The Vertigo Inducing Icelandic Waterfall

  1. Hi Richie,

    Iceland! I’m jealous. Just went to Croatia and had a blast; trying to convince the boyfriend that Iceland should be high on our list.

    You were experiencing the motion aftereffect. The most common explanation is that we have neurons sensitive to motion that become adapted by looking at the waterfall. See the rest of the explanation at our good friend Wikipedia, Wikipedia:


    • Shannon, just the scientist I was looking for, this looks like it! Thank you. If you ever convince the boyfriend on Iceland let me know. I have good friends there and a list of must sees 🙂

      Be well,

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