A meta-analysis of the size-weight and material-weight illusions Academic Article uri icon


  • The current study comprises the first systematic meta-analysis of weight illusions. We obtained descriptive data from studies in which subjective heaviness estimates were made for pairs or groups of objects that had the same mass and different volumes (size-weight illusion; SWI) or different apparent material properties (material-weight illusion; MWI). Using these data, we calculated mean effect sizes to represent illusion strength. Other study details, including stimulus mass, volume, density, and degree of visual and somatosensory access to the stimuli were also recorded to quantify the contribution of these variables to effect sizes for the SWI. The results indicate that the SWI has a larger mean effect size than the MWI and that the former is consistent in strength when information about stimulus size is gained through somatosensory channels, regardless of visual access. The SWI is weaker when only the visual system provides size information. Effect sizes for the SWI were larger when there was a greater difference in volume across the stimuli. There was also a positive correlation between SWI strength and the difference in physical density across the different experimental stimuli, even after controlling for volume differences. Together, we argue that these findings provide support for theories of weight illusions that are based on conceptual expectancies as well as those that are based on bottom-up processing of physical density. We further propose that these processes, which have been considered dichotomously in the past, may not be mutually exclusive from each other and could both contribute to our perception of weight when we handle objects in everyday life.

publication date

  • 2019