Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How fear can skew spatial perception

Date:
October 22, 2012
Source:
Emory University
Summary:
That snake heading towards you may be further away than it appears. Fear can skew our perception of approaching objects, causing us to underestimate the distance of a threatening one, a new study finds.

The more fearful someone reported feeling of spiders, the more they underestimated time-to-collision of a looming spider.
Credit: gosphotodesign / Fotolia

That snake heading towards you may be further away than it appears. Fear can skew our perception of approaching objects, causing us to underestimate the distance of a threatening one, finds a study published in Current Biology.

Related Articles


"Our results show that emotion and perception are not fully dissociable in the mind," says Emory psychologist Stella Lourenco, co-author of the study. "Fear can alter even basic aspects of how we perceive the world around us. This has clear implications for understanding clinical phobias."

Lourenco conducted the research with Matthew Longo, a psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London.

People generally have a well-developed sense for when objects heading towards them will make contact, including a split-second cushion for dodging or blocking the object, if necessary. The researchers set up an experiment to test the effect of fear on the accuracy of that skill.

Study participants made time-to-collision judgments of images on a computer screen. The images expanded in size over one second before disappearing, to simulate "looming," an optical pattern used instinctively to judge collision time. The study participants were instructed to gauge when each of the visual stimuli on the computer screen would have collided with them by pressing a button.

The participants tended to underestimate the collision time for images of threatening objects, such as a snake or spider, as compared to non-threatening images, such as a rabbit or butterfly.

The results challenge the traditional view of looming, as a purely optical cue to object approach. "We're showing that what the object is affects how we perceive looming. If we're afraid of something, we perceive it as making contact sooner," Longo says.

"Even more striking," Lourenco adds, "it is possible to predict how much a participant will underestimate the collision time of an object by assessing the amount of fear they have for that object. The more fearful someone reported feeling of spiders, for example, the more they underestimated time-to-collision for a looming spider. That makes adaptive sense: If an object is dangerous, it's better to swerve a half-second too soon than a half-second too late."

The researchers note that it's unclear whether fear of an object makes the object appear to travel faster, or whether that fear makes the viewer expand their sense of personal space, which is generally about an arm's length away.

"We'd like to distinguish between these two possibilities in future research. Doing so will allow us to shed insight on the mechanics of basic aspects of spatial perception and the mechanisms underlying particular phobias," Lourenco says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Emory University. The original article was written by Carol Clark. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Eleonora Vagnoni, Stella F. Lourenco, Matthew R. Longo. Threat modulates perception of looming visual stimuli. Current Biology, 2012; 22 (19): R826 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.07.053

Cite This Page:

Emory University. "How fear can skew spatial perception." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121022081143.htm>.
Emory University. (2012, October 22). How fear can skew spatial perception. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121022081143.htm
Emory University. "How fear can skew spatial perception." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121022081143.htm (accessed April 21, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Our Love Of Puppy Dog Eyes Explained By Science

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers found a spike in oxytocin occurs in both humans and dogs when they gaze into each other&apos;s eyes. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Scientists Find Link Between Gestational Diabetes And Autism

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2015) Researchers who analyzed data from over 300,000 kids and their mothers say they&apos;ve found a link between gestational diabetes and autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

Video Messages Help Reassure Dementia Patients

AP (Apr. 17, 2015) Family members are prerecording messages as part of a unique pilot program at the Hebrew Home in New York. The videos are trying to help victims of Alzheimer&apos;s disease and other forms of dementia break through the morning fog of forgetfulness. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Common Pain Reliever Might Dull Your Emotions

Common Pain Reliever Might Dull Your Emotions

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2015) Each week, millions of Americans take acetaminophen to dull minor aches and pains. Now researchers say it might blunt life&apos;s highs and lows, too. 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