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Benjamin van Buren, Brian Scholl; The 'Blindfold Test' for Deciding whether an Effect Reflects Visual Processing or Higher-Level Judgment. Journal of Vision 2018;18(10):56. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/18.10.56.
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Beyond lower-level features such as color and orientation, visual processing also traffics in seemingly higher-level properties such as animacy and causality. For decades, researchers have studied these sorts of phenomena by asking observers to view displays and make subjective reports about such properties — e.g. "How alive does this dot look on a scale from 1-7?" Do these experiments measure observers' visual impressions, or merely their judgments that certain features should reflect animacy? (Even if you accept that we can truly perceive properties such as animacy, of course we can and do think about them as well.) Here we introduce the 'Blindfold Test' for helping to determine whether an effect reflects perception or judgment. The logic of the test is simple: If an experimental result can be obtained not only with visual displays, but also using written descriptions of those displays — i.e. without any visual stimuli at all (as if the subjects were wearing blindfolds) — then the fact that subjects attest in some way to seeing a property cannot (and should not!) be taken as evidence for visual processing of that property. Here we apply the Blindfold Test to two past studies. In the first study, subjects reported that moving shapes looked more animate when they increased their speed or changed heading. In the second study, subjects reported that shapes in a collision event appeared to exert less force when they 'shattered' into many pieces. To find out whether these results implicate visual processing per se, we reran these experiments while replacing the visual stimuli with (mere) descriptions. Both experiments' key findings replicated — in other words, they failed the Blindfold Test. As such, these studies do not license conclusions about perception, and this test may aid researchers interested in properly interpreting such results.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2018
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