LEONARDO DA VINCI'S LA GIOCONDA—the Mona Lisa—holds a special place in the art world, and not just because it is arguably the world's most famous painting. It also lends its name to a phenomenon well known to fans of both art museums and ghost stories: the “Mona Lisa effect,” or the maddening, fascinating impression that a portrait's fixed gaze is following you around the room. Even though we know the eyes aren't moving, the feeling is certainly real.
“Curiously enough, we don't have to stand right in front of the image in order to have the impression of being looked at—even if the person portrayed in the image looks straight ahead,” said Sebastian Loth, a cognitive scientist at the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University in Germany in a release. “This impression emerges if we stand to the left or right and at different distances from the image. The robust sensation of ‘being looked at' is precisely the Mona Lisa effect.”