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Laura Thomas, Adriane Seiffert; Looking ahead: Attending to anticipatory locations increases perception of control. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):234. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/10.7.234.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
According to the theory of apparent mental causation (Wegner & Wheatley, 1999), people are more likely to perceive themselves as in control of a particular action when thoughts about this action occur before the action itself. This priority hypothesis suggests a potential relationship between visual attention and the perception of control. In two experiments, we tested the hypothesis that observers would feel more control over an object if we directed them to pay attention to a location where the object was headed. Participants attempted to keep a moving object inside a narrow vertical path as it moved upwards for five seconds. The object took random steps to the left and right that participants could counter with key presses. We varied the participants' objective level of control over the object across trials and asked participants to rate their subjective feeling of control over the object at the end of each trial. We directed participants' visual attention to particular locations along the object's path by having them discriminate the color of a flash that was briefly presented during the task. In Experiment 1, participants reported greater subjective feelings of control when the flash appeared where the object was headed than when it appeared where the object had already been. The results of Experiment 2 showed that participants reported the highest levels of control when a brief autopilot function steered the object directly over the flash location. Taken together, these results suggest that we perceive more control over objects when they move to where we are attending: If an object goes where we are looking, we feel like we made it go there. Although some researchers have primarily employed the theory of apparent mental causation to study high-level metacognitive issues, these experiments demonstrate the theory's relevance to vision science.
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