What Is Lateral Inversion?


Write your name on a sheet of paper, and then hold the paper up to a mirror. The reversal of the letters in the mirror is called lateral inversion. Look at yourself in the mirror. Move your right hand, and it appears in the mirror to be your left hand. Images are inverted on a lateral plane where right appears to be left and left to be right.


  • Light consist of particles called photons. Light bounces off of an object in front of a mirror and then strikes the mirror. The mirror then reflects the particles back, and your eyes see the image. If the mirror is curved like those found in a funhouse, the image becomes distorted. The quality of the image depends upon the quality of the mirror. When you look in the mirror, you see an image of an object, not the object itself.

Optical Illusion

  • The explanation for the mechanism by which a mirror laterally inverts an object is the focus of an article by Greg Parker at the New Forest Observatory. If a mirror simply reflects back light, there would be no way the mirror could invert the image. The image in the mirror would simply be a reflection of the image in front of the mirror. The explanation offered is an optical illusion; the image is not laterally inverted, it just appears to be.

The Paper

  • Parker exposed the secret to lateral inversion. The paper held in front of a mirror is inverted --- but not by the mirror. It is inverted when the holder turns the paper around to face the mirror. To verify this, write on a thin piece of paper. Turn the paper toward the mirror, and then look through the back of the paper. The writing is inverted, and the mirror is just reflecting the inverted words. Another way to prove the mirror does not invert the object is to hold the paper up so it reads correctly. Then look at the mirror. If the paper is thin enough for the words to show through and be reflected, the words will read correctly from left to right.


  • Ambulances sometimes display the word "ambulance" on the front of the vehicle in an inverted fashion, where the word is written backward. The purpose is to alert vehicles in front of the ambulance to its presence. You look in your rear view mirror, and the word is laterally inverted to read correctly. Again, the mirror is just reflecting light and the image with the appearance of lateral inversion.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images
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