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Elyssa Twedt, Carlee B. Hawkins, Dennis Proffitt; Perspective-taking changes perceived spatial layout. Journal of Vision 2009;9(8):74. doi: 10.1167/9.8.74.
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Perception of spatial layout is affected by numerous non-optical variables. For example, people who are fatigued, in poor physical condition, or burdened by a heavy load perceive distances to be further and hills to be steeper than unencumbered people (Bhalla & Proffitt, 1999). In addition, fear can influence one's perception of heights (Teachman et al., 2008), and being in the presence of a friend (i.e., social support) makes hills appear shallower (Schnall et al., 2008). The present study investigated whether stereotypes and attitudes also influence perception of spatial layout. In particular, we tested whether priming participants with an elderly stereotype affects their imagined time-to-walk to a target. A common stereotype is that the elderly are less physically fit than young people, so it takes them more time to traverse a distance than a young person. Thus, participants primed with an elderly stereotype should have slower imagined time-to-walk estimates than participants primed with a young stereotype (neutral condition). When examining the effects of priming, female participants in the elderly condition imagined that it would take longer to walk to a target, relative to males. A measure of implicit attitudes suggests that this gender effect is partially due to empathy: female participants, who have more positive and empathetic views towards the elderly, may be more likely to have slower imagined times-to-walk because they embody the behavior of the elderly. However, participants who harbor more negative views of the elderly may be less affected by the manipulation and may actually show behavior that contrasts with the primed social group. We are currently investigating whether this difference in imagined times is due to participants misperceiving the target distance as being longer or the walking speed as being slower. This research suggests that the ability to take another's perspective can influence perception of spatial layout.
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