The psychology of “bubble porn”

An amusing meme on the Internet is the concept of “bubble porn”, also known as “Mormon porn”. The idea is to take a photo of someone who is scantily clad, but not nude, and mask out the clothing, leaving only bare skin exposed. The result is that the person in the photo now looks to be naked.

This phenomenon is actually a manifestation of Gestalt theory, specifically, the principal of closure, the property of emergence, and the principals of continuity and past experience. In psychology, there are several principals/laws/properties of the Gestalt theory of perception. There is no definitive set of Gestalt principals, and the theory itself is debated, but below are a selection of properties. Some of them are similar while some are overridden by others. In general, they cause things being seen to be perceived as units. Most of these are for visual perception, but proximity also works in time. That is, when two things occur close to each other, they are perceived to be connected, hence the perception of one thing causing another even if it did not.

In the case of bubble-porn, by masking out the clothing, the brain tries to fill in the blanks with what information is available, and since the information available is the surrounding skin, and since we have experience with what bodies look like, the mind perceives the person as being naked under the masks. As if celebrities didn’t already have enough to worry about with fake nude photos (and as of 2017, AI-generated fake videos).

Oval under rectangle and hourglass-shape
That’s not an oval, it’s a stylish hourglass
Broken circle and square
Principle of closure
Black triangles with one red and one black circle
Principle of focus
Triangle and sphere in negative space
Property of reification
Two groups of dots enclosed in boxes
Princple of common region
Joystick in various styles and angles
Property of invariance
Outline of a cat
Property of emergence
Various shapes connected with lines
Principle of connectedness
A Necker cube and Rubin cup
Property of multistability
Various dots moving up or down together
Principle of common fate
Three pares of curly braces
Principle of symmetry
Columns of dots
Principle of proximity
Various lines, two parallel
Principle of parallelism
Twisting snake made of squares
Principle of good Gestalt
Three rows of each grey and black dots
Principle of similarity
Slanted stop-light and house
Principle of past experience
Line with rectangle on top
Principle of continuity
Photo of Miranda Kerr normal and bubble–porn-ized
Miranda Kerr is not naked; you wish!