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autokinetic effect

The autokinetic effect refers to perceiving a stationary point of light in the dark as moving. Psychologists attribute the perception of movement where there is none to "small, involuntary movements of the eyeball" (Schick and Vaughn 1995: 47).

The autokinetic effect can be enhanced by the power of suggestion: If one person reports that a light is moving, others will be more likely to report the same thing (Zusne and Jones).

Some, but not all, UFO sightings are attributable to the autokinetic effect while perceiving bright stars or planets such as Venus (Schick and Vaughn; Sofka).

further reading


Schick, Jr., Theodore and Lewis Vaughn. 2007. How to Think About Weird Things, 5th ed. McGraw-Hill.

Zusne, Leonard and Warren Jones. Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. 2nd edition. (Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc; 1990).


The UFOs of October: The Autokinetic Effect and group dynamics in UFO observations by Michael D. Sofka (1999).

The Phases of Venus by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer

Natural Identified Flying Objects

Early Morning Bright Object: Not a UFO!

Last updated 27-Oct-2015

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