Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Seeing isn't believing: Intense focus on objects can distort perception of where things are

Date:
September 7, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Pay attention! It's a universal warning, which implies that keeping close watch helps us perceive the world more accurately. But a new study by cognitive psychologists finds that intense focus on objects can have the opposite effect: It distorts perception of where things are in relation to one another.

Pay attention! It's a universal warning, which implies that keeping close watch helps us perceive the world more accurately. But a new study by Yale University cognitive psychologists Brandon Liverence and Brian Scholl finds that intense focus on objects can have the opposite effect: It distorts perception of where things are in relation to one another.

Related Articles


The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Figuring out where objects are in the world seems like one of the most basic and important jobs the brain does," says Liverence, a graduate student. "It was surprising to discover that even this simple type of perception is warped by our minds." The researchers studied such distortions when people had to focus their attention on some objects, but not others. When they did this, Liverence explains, the "attended objects" were seen as closer together than they really were, while the other objects were seen as farther apart than they really were.

To test this phenomenon, the researchers had people -- 10 in each of three experiments -- complete simple visual tasks. In the one with the most striking results, participants watched four circles as they moved around on a computer monitor while rapidly changing colors. Before the movement began, two of the circles flashed several times; these were the "targets." During the ensuing motion, the participants had to press a key whenever either of those targets turned red or blue. Then, after several seconds of motion, all of the circles disappeared, and the participants clicked with a mouse on the locations they'd last seen the circles.

The subjects located the objects with high accuracy -- good news, says Liverence, for people trying to cross the street. But their errors were not random. Instead, the researchers discovered two distortions -- one expected, one surprising. As in past research, the reported locations of the circles were all compressed slightly toward the center of the display, as if the mind's representation of the world were slightly shrunk. Beyond this global distortion, though, subjects remembered the two target circles as closer to each other than they actually were (as if they were attracting each other), and reported the other two circles as farther apart than they'd been (as if they were repelling each other).

The findings add to a growing body of cognitive psychology that destabilizes our trust in what we think we know for sure and how we think we can know it more surely. "Attention is the way our minds connect with things in the environment, enabling us to see, remember, and interact with those things," says Liverence. "We tend to think that attention clarifies what's out there. But it also distorts."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Seeing isn't believing: Intense focus on objects can distort perception of where things are." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907144014.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, September 7). Seeing isn't believing: Intense focus on objects can distort perception of where things are. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907144014.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Seeing isn't believing: Intense focus on objects can distort perception of where things are." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110907144014.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Tryptophan Isn't Making You Sleepy On Thanksgiving

Tryptophan Isn't Making You Sleepy On Thanksgiving

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) — Tryptophan, a chemical found naturally in turkey meat, gets blamed for sleepiness after Thanksgiving meals. But science points to other culprits. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) — Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins