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Robin Kramer, Robert Ward; Effects of social context on walking and the perceptions of walkers. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):787. doi: 10.1167/10.7.787.
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Research using point-light walker stimuli shows that biological motion alone can signal various types of information, such as age, sex, and identity. However, all these experiments involve creating videos of walkers in a context in which actors are aware that they are being filmed and observed. Given the effects of social context on other behaviours, we decided to investigate whether walking while being aware versus unaware of being observed would affect perceptions of those actors. Walkers were filmed in two conditions, first through the use of a hidden camera, and second with a visible camera operated by the experimenter. Point-light stimuli were then created from the videos. These stimuli were then viewed by a second set of participants, who rated them for various traits including health and personality. Results demonstrated that perceptions of people differed depending on the context in which they were filmed. For instance, actors were rated as more extraverted and more feminine when they were unaware of being filmed and walked while alone. In addition, we were able to investigate how accurate raters' perceptions of these actors were. These findings have implications for both past and future studies of perception from biological motion, highlighting the need to consider social context when exploring the nature of information signalling.
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