This Youtube video shows what a "true mirror" is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSxCZCy5Wsk

In short, when you look into a true mirror you look at yourself (among other things) as you really are, instead of as a mirror image. That is what looking at real time video recording feels like.

But as anyone ever tried shaving or doing their makeup using a live video can tell, a true mirror makes you clumsy, to say the least. From my own experience, I find myself constantly confuse both left-right and front-back in such a case, which is interesting because a true image is just a mirror image that reverses left-right and front-back. So it seems to me some part of my brain in some sense recognizes my true image as a mirror image, and summons whatever pertinent mirror image circuits to automatically take on from there. Any other thoughts on how to explain this difficulty?

Think about this: suppose a person grows up never seeing a mirror reflection, will he be able to use a mirror for the first time? will he not be better off with a "true mirror" than with a mirror? If he grows up using true mirrors, will he be as clumsy with mirrors as we are with true mirrors? We feel natural and at ease dealing with mirror images. Is this just the result of practice and experience? I'm curious if a true mirror will become as natural as a mirror if one uses it for long enough.

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    $\begingroup$ You'd need some pretty strong research to establish that this is anything other than overlearning/practice effects. $\endgroup$
    – Krysta
    Jan 13, 2015 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ Mind boggling at first, but a mirror does only flip front and back, not left and right. What is left in reality, remains left in the mirror. What's right remains right. It's funny that this confusion does not arise when discussing up and down, but it's rechnically the same. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2018 at 7:08

3 Answers 3


This answer supports the comment by Krysta that we are simply used to the mirrors we have and could just as easily learn to use a "true mirror".

In 1950, Theodor Erismann and Ivo Kohler performed a famous self-experiment in Innsbruck, Austria. Kohler wore a pair of glasses that turned his view of the world upside down continually for 124 days (sic). After about 8 days his perception had adapted and he was able to ride a bike or paint just like before.

The image below shows Kohler wearing the glasses:

enter image description here

Here is the original documentary movie created by the two researchers (in German) on the website of the Center for the History of Psychology at the University of Würzburg, Germany: http://www.awz.uni-wuerzburg.de/archiv/film_foto_tonarchiv/filmdokumente/th_erismann_ikohler/die_umkehrbrille_und_das_aufrechte_sehen/

Here is an article from the German Wikipedia describing the glasses and showing an image of a current (self-built) model: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umkehrbrille I don't know what this "Umkehrbrille" ("turn around glasses") are called in English.

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    $\begingroup$ Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw into a mirror, or the first time you learned to use one? If we are used to mirror by learning and practice, then there must be a time when a mirror is as curious and strange to a baby as "Umkehrbrille" or "true mirror" is to us. But presumably that happened when we were so young that we have no memory of it. $\endgroup$
    – Eric
    Jan 15, 2015 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting, but unfortunately not scientific. It is known that the brain structures can adapt after repeated exposure, but I suspect they will still be in conflict with proprioceptive sense (knowing where your limbs are). If this is found to be false, it could have very interesting implications for interactive design. $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Jan 15, 2015 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ Great answer @what. In addition, a great review just recently posted of how incredibly plastic perception processing is, supporting the idea that we could learn to accommodate just about any type of consistent sensory input: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/9135/…. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jan 24, 2015 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @rmayer06 How is this not scientific?!? $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Dec 1, 2016 at 21:09

I am struggling to recall the scientific term for what you are describing, but it is a simple cognitive phenomenon that guides and informs the design of physical, real-world interfaces.

Let's look at a mouse on a computer. The motion of the mouse in the real world corresponds to the motion of the cursor on the screen. As an experiment, try to use the mouse sideways. (not upside-down). Notice how clumsy it is? It is because the motion does not at all correspond to what is happening in the real world. You are engaging another layer of your brain, a layer that is 100 times slower than the automatic layer engaged in movement of the mouse along its normal axis. This is irrespective of practice - it would still be more difficult if you had used the mouse in this manner for many years (unless you had a brain disorder).

The same problems confront folks who design computer interfaces for aircraft, spacecraft, and other complex physical systems. We have to design to decrease the cognitive load required to operate the device, and that involves, among other things, designing so that motion corresponds to the natural direction it does in your head. A mirror already complies with this principle (at least in the side-to-side plane), but a "true mirror" does not. That is the reason for the difficulty.


As the maker of the True Mirror, and with over 30,000 individual showings over the last 30 years, there's a big reason to get over the strange hand/eye dis-coordination that occurs (and also the unfortunate doubling effect of any asymmetries): It's really "us" looking back, our face works this way, and stops working when reversed. We can see how we are, not just what we look like.

The person that is looking back with a reversed set of eyes is not able to communicate naturally. This is because the messages within our face that augment our words (and/or our non-verbal messages as well) are easily read by anyone looking at us, forming a key component of communication. Tke key here is the messages are different left to right, just as the brain hemispheres are different left to right.

When you flip your face in a mirror, indeed the left and right sides are swapped...the argument that mirrors only flip front and back and the mirror left side is still on "your" left side is not correct or relevant. The fact that you are facing yourself means that the right side needs to be on the opposite of your right side and vice versa for the left. (you can't shake your own hand in a mirror, the left hand of the mirror person comes out to meet your right hand)

In a True Mirror, you are seeing your face with the eyes and features correctly positioned, just like anyone looking at you, and therefore the messages read correctly and your expressions communicate accurately. Your subsequent responses can then be normal, just as another person communicates with you. In any mirror, you are in an incredibly dynamic communication feedback loop with yourself. But in a reverse mirror, there is information distortion introduced into the message, which causes them to be read differently, and in practice causes expressions to fade very quickly. It manifests as more of a stare, especially in the eyes. In the True Mirror, the feedback loop is still there, but without the information distortion, and expressions stick around and even grow.

The key expression that is impossible to keep for more than a second or two, and which works marvelously in the True Mirror, is our genuine smile. Its the light in the eyes that is so different when you reverse them - they just don't carry the reason for the smile, causing them to fade rapidly. Whereas in the True Mirror, it actually can grow, just as they do in real life when we are talking with others. Smiles are amazing vehicles for communicating so many elements of empathy, humor, understanding, being ok and beauty.

We all have been living with a literal doppelganger in our own personal experience, a version of us that only we see, and which is missing so many parts of our expressive personality. We are used to it, but at some level, it is causing strange and unexamined effects on our self-image, understanding, awareness, esteem, confidence, and other self-ism, and possibly is a root cause of feeling different than others. With a feedback loop with distortion, you don't know where its going to go, so everyone seems to have a different relationship with themselves, usually at odds with how others relate to them.

So yes, in a True Mirror, the physical effects are challenging, but easily overcome with familiarization. I can shave in it now, and find a spec of stuff on my shirt without thinking, and likewise if I put on makeup, it would also become normalized (though I might wait a while before working on my eyes!)

But so much more important is the idea of getting familiar with and learning about the person that I am in real life, the person that everyone else sees, the person that has many expressions. And through the exquisite communication tool that is my face, this true reflection can clue me into who and how I am doing. It also suggests to stop looking in mirrors and having an altered being with a non-expressive face inform me of the same.

For the last two years I have been posting reactions on social media (@truemirroco), and so you can see for yourself how much more dynamic people can be with themselves in a non-reversing mirror, and how much gets lost within seconds when they meet their eyes in reverse.

Let me know if this makes sense and you have comments or questions!

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to psych.SE. Answers here are expected to be based in scientific evidence - please provide credible references to backup claims made. Additionally, this answer reads more like a product promotion than an explanation based in scientific theory. $\endgroup$
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    Sep 30, 2023 at 3:48
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. $\endgroup$
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