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Jessica Witt, Dennis Proffitt; Playing air guitar eliminates effect of ability on perceived distance. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):760. doi: 10.1167/8.6.760.
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Perceived distance is influenced by the perceiver's ability to perform the intended action. For example, targets that are just beyond arm's reach look closer when the perceiver intends to reach to the targets with a tool (Witt, Proffitt, & Epstein, 2005). Experiments such as these demonstrate that perception is influenced by motor processes. An obvious question is to ask about the underlying motor process that can penetrate perceptual processes. We propose a motor simulation: participants simulate the intended action, and the outcome of the simulation (e.g. if the target is within reach) influences perception. We test this idea of motor simulation using an interference paradigm. Musicians estimated the distance and reached to targets with a tool, so the targets were within reach and therefore should look closer. However, some of the musicians listen to music played by their own instrument while performing the task. The idea is that these musicians cannot help but play along in their minds, so they did not simulate reaching with the tool. Without the outcome of the simulation to inform perception about the person's reaching capabilities, perceived distance should not be influenced by use of the tool. Consistent with this prediction, we found that musicians who listened to music played in their own instrument perceived the targets to be farther away than musicians who listened to music played by another instrument. These results suggest that motor simulation is one of the underlying processes that relates a person's ability to the perception of distance.
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