Desire influences visual perception

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.

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Kicking performance affects perception of goal size

Athletes who are on a winning streak often claim that they perceive their targets to be bigger than they actually are. After a run of birdies, for example, golfers sometimes say that the cup appeared to be the size of a bucket, and baseball players who have a hit a few home runs say that the ball is the size of a grapefruit. Conversely, targets are often reported to be smaller than they actually are by athletes who are performing badly.

Research carried out in the past 5 years suggests that these are more than just anecdotes, and that performance in sports can actually affect perception. A new study by psychologists at Purdue University now lends more weight to this, by providing evidence that success rate in American football field goals affects how the size of the goal posts is perceived.

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