WE tend to assume that we see our surroundings as they really are, and that our perception of reality is accurate. In fact, what we perceive is merely a neural representation of the world, the brain’s best guess of its environment, based on a very limited amount of available information. This is perhaps best demonstrated by visual illusions, in which there is a mismatch between our perception of the stimulus and objective reality.
Even when looking at everyday objects, our perceptions can be deceiving. According to the New Look approach, first propounded in the 1940s by the influential cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, perception is largely a constructive process influenced by our needs and values. Recent research has provided some evidence for this: in 2006, psychologists Emily Balcetis and David Dunning, then at Cornell University, reported that an ambiguous figure tended to be interpreted according to the self-interest of the perceiver. They now show that the desirability of an object influences its perceived distance.