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Benjamin van Buren, Stefan Uddenberg, Brian Scholl; The automaticity of perceiving animacy: Seeing goal-directed motion in simple shapes influences visuomotor behavior even when task-irrelevant. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1187. doi: 10.1167/15.12.1187.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Visual processing recovers not only simple features such as color and shape, but also seemingly higher-level properties such as animacy and intentionality. Indeed, even abstract geometric shapes are readily perceived as intentional agents when they move in certain ways, and such percepts can dramatically influence behavior. In the wolfpack effect, for example, participants maneuver a disc around a display that contains a number of randomly-moving dart shapes, which they must avoid. When the darts collectively point toward the user-controlled disc, however, participants (falsely) perceive that the darts are chasing them, and they perform substantially worse than when the darts are always oriented perpendicular to the disc (a control condition that perfectly equates the degree of correlated motion). However, the nature of such effects, despite their power, remains unclear. Are they reflexive, automatic features of visual processing? Or might they instead arise only as contingent strategies in tasks where participants must interact with (and thus focus on the features of) such objects? We explored these questions in an especially direct way — by simply embedding such displays into the background of a completely independent 'foraging' task. Participants now moved their disc to collect small dots (which appeared sequentially in random locations) as quickly as possible. The darts were task-irrelevant, and participants were encouraged to simply ignore them. Nevertheless, foraging was significantly slowed when the randomly-moving darts all pointed at the participant-controlled disc — compared to control conditions when the darts either (1) were always oriented perpendicular to the participant-controlled disc, or (2) always pointed at a separate (and also task-irrelevant) moving shape. The perception of animacy may thus influence downstream visuomotor behavior in a reflexive, automatic manner, such that participants cannot override the influences of seemingly animate shapes while attempting to completely ignore them.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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