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Eric Smith, Marcia Grabowecky, Satoru Suzuki; A surprisingly stimulus-specific effect of self-awareness on perception of mirrored and un-mirrored self-faces. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):781. doi: 10.1167/8.6.781.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Attention modulates perception of selected visual features, but can non-sensory mental factors such as states of self-awareness systematically influence visual perception? To reveal a visual effect of self-awareness, we considered the unique experiential associations of the perception of mirrored and un-mirrored self-faces with different states of self-awareness. When you look at yourself in a mirror examining your left-right reversed face, you are typically alone and your self-awareness is likely to be directed to immediate percepts including body sensations, potentially strengthening a neural association between the visual processing of a mirrored self-face and a state of internally-directed self-awareness. In contrast, when you look at your un-mirrored face in a photograph, you are likely to be with other people (to whom you show the photograph), and your self-awareness is more likely to be socially directed (thinking about how others think of you), potentially strengthening a neural association between the visual processing of an un-mirrored self-face and a state of socially-directed self-awareness. If visual processing gets selectively associated with concurrent states of self-awareness in this way, internally-directed self-awareness should selectively facilitate recognition of mirrored self-faces, whereas socially-directed self-awareness should selectively facilitate recognition of un-mirrored self-faces. To induce an internally-directed state of self-awareness, we instructed participants to focus on their breathing as a bodily sensation; to induce a socially-directed state of self-awareness, we instructed participants to think about their strengths and weaknesses, as people are typically concerned about how others perceive them in social situations. As predicted, internally-directed self-awareness enhanced recognition of mirrored self-faces (faster response time and stronger self perception), whereas socially-directed self-awareness enhanced recognition of un-mirrored self-faces. As mirrored and un-mirrored faces are highly similar, our results demonstrate that non-sensory mental states such as self-awareness can have a surprisingly stimulus-selective impact on visual perception.
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