Laws of Camouflage

Read on to find out more about this face!

Camouflage is the art of disguising yourself to blend in with your surroundings. Many animals have evolved to conceal themselves in their natural environments. The color and pattern of some animals' markings help them camouflage themselves naturally.

How would you go about camouflaging yourself in an environment such as the forest? You may find it helpful to consider the Dragonfly Laws of Camouflage, which are based on the way people and other animals perceive the world. To perceive means to become aware of something with the help of your senses, like sight. These Laws of Camouflage are derived from Gestalt principles of perception. You may want to try them next time you're hiding in the woods. Or see if these laws help you find the creatures in the Dragonfly Hide & Seek Sea.

Gestalt Theories of Perception

"The whole is more than the sum of its parts"

Gestalt is a German word that means "whole." Starting in the 1920s, some German psychologists developed theories of perception, describing the ways people see patterns in nature. We tend to see patterns instead of a whirling blur of colors and shapes. With perception, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Think about it like this: Our eyes and brains are more than television cameras recording shapes and colors. Rather, humans and other animals are able to see whole objects like rocks and trees.

Among other things, Gestalt psychologists developed four laws that govern the perception of whole objects. We can use these laws as a guide to the art of camouflage.

1. Law of Proximity

Objects that are positioned close to one another are often seen not as separate parts, but rather as one coherent whole.

On the left, there appear to be three horizontal rows. On the right, the grouping appears to be in vertical columns. Because the spacing is altered slightly, your perception organizes the images so that they are grouped together. We see these images not as a collection of unrelated dots, but as three distinct columns or rows.

The law of proximity suggests that the parts of an animal's body will be perceived together as a whole. So when a person or animal wants to hide, it must position itself so that parts of its body are grouped together with its surroundings.

In the Hide & Seek Sea the Conger eel hides in the seaweed in a vertical position. Because of the vertical "columns" of seaweed, it's easy to overlook the eel and let yourself incorrectly perceive that the eel is a strand of seaweed.

2. Law of Similarity

When objects look similar to one another, they are often perceived to be part of a pattern. This applies to color, size, and shape.

The triangles within the square on the left seem to form a pattern. So it appears as though there is one large triangle within the square. On the right side, we switched two of the shapes. Although there are the same number of triangles, people are less likely to perceive them as a single whole. However, the three smaller triangles in a row now tend to be perceived together as a unified whole.

A person who wants to be camouflaged may want to take advantage of this law by breaking up the pattern. Blurring the edges will make it more difficult to form a "gestalt." And that makes the person much harder to see.

Take a look at the Leafy Sea Dragon in the Hide & Seek Sea. The "leafy" structures actually make the Leafy Sea Dragon bigger, so you might think it would make it easier to see. In fact, these structures blur its edges, allowing it to blend in with its seaweed surroundings more easily.

3. Law of Continuity

Items that continue a pattern or direction tend to be grouped together as part of the same pattern.

Even though both sets of blue circles are connected to the pink circles, it looks as though the circles on top fit more correctly in an established pattern. We tend to perceive the upper blue circles as part of the pattern, but not the lower circles.

The law of continuity tells us that we can blend into an object such as a tree, if we can make ourselves look like a continuation of an existing pattern. On the flip side, the discontinuous pattern of a camouflage jacket creates no continuous pattern. This jumble of shapes goes against the Gestalt law of continuity, and makes it harder to see.

The legs of the decorator crab in the Hide & Seek Sea can be seen as a continuation of the pattern formed by the rocks at the bottom of the sea.

4. Law of Closure

Humans tend to perceive an enclosed space by completing a contour and ignoring gaps in the figure. Often we perceive an object as a whole, even though what we actually see of the object is incomplete. This circle to the left is actually not even a circle -- it is incomplete, as can be seen on the right. We tend to perceive the object on the left as a circle partially covered by a blue blob, rather than a partial circle plus a blob.

Often it is easy to spot a person even if they are partially hidden by branches. A big part of the art of camouflage is breaking up the pattern to prevent the formation of closure. A camouflage jacket is also good "breaking the law" of closure.

The stingray in the Hide & Seek Sea will usually almost always be seen as a complete object. But what we actually see is the orange coral reef and three separate stingray parts. We perceive a whole stingray, and assume the rest of the stingray lies behind the coral reef -- but we really can't be certain.

Hide & Seek Sea Hiding Rocks Camouflage Laws Overview Dragonfly Home

Thanks to Miki Kato for some of these illustrations.

This document has been accessed 24,484 times since 9/9/97 to May 29, 2002 on the MIAVX1 Server. It has been accessed a total of 1 times.
This document was last modified on Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 09:40:12.
Please send comments and suggestions to