Nav: Home

Altered images: New research shows that what we see is distorted by what we expect to see

August 07, 2018

New research shows that humans "see" the actions of others not quite as they really are, but slightly distorted by their expectations.

Published today (8 August) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study could explain why people get others' actions so wrong and see ambiguous behaviour as meaningful, according to authors from the University of Plymouth School of Psychology.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, saw 85 participants watch an actor reach for an object with a straight or arched trajectory on a touch screen.

In some screenings of the actions, an obstruction was put in between the hand and the object it was reaching for (see image 1). The arched trajectory was therefore expected to avoid the obstruction, whereas the straight trajectory was 'inefficient' as it would knock into it. Where there was no obstruction, the straight action was free to reach directly for the target, whereas the arched trajectory was unnecessary and unexpected.

In the experiment, the action disappeared mid-trajectory and participants touched the last seen screen position of the hand.

Results (see image 2) showed that people had judged that the straight trajectory hand moved higher if it was inefficient, to avoid the obstruction, while perceiving that the arched trajectory hand was further downwards towards the target if there was no obstruction.

In both cases, people's perceptions were based on what they had expected the hand to do to maximise efficiency - not what it actually did.

Study author Matthew Hudson said that while the experiment pertained to physical movement, it might help us understand how people find out what others are thinking and feeling; in short, why they are behaving in the way they do.

"Primates interpret behaviour as goal-directed and expect others to achieve goals by the most efficient means possible," he said. "While this is accepted among psychologists, little has been known about its underlying mechanisms.

"What we have found in this study may be important for various reasons. Firstly, it shows that people make predictions when they see the actions of others. It has been argued for a long while that people constantly make such predictions, and use them to figure out if other people see the same things as we do.

"So imagine you are a passenger in a car, and see a cat run out onto the street. If the driver has seen it, you can picture in your mind that they should now slow down and swerve to avoid it. If they don't do this, you immediately know that they probably haven't seen the cat and you can warn them.

"Such predictions can also be used to coordinate with other people. For example, if we want to do a joint task like catching a ball that someone throws to you, it helps if you already see, in your mind's eye, what the other person is going to do.

"Finally, the results show that people "see" others' actions in the light of their own expectations. If you see someone look at something with a neutral expression and think they are angry, they might look a bit angrier than they really are. This might explain why people often get others' actions so wrong and see ambiguous behaviour as meaningful."
-end-
Co-author Katrina McDonough added: "These findings are really helpful for our understanding of how we so effortlessly seem to directly 'see' the beliefs, intentions, and emotions drawn onto other people's actions, and a possible next step to understanding how a deficit in this ability may contribute to the social difficulties encountered by those with autism and schizophrenia."

The full study, entitled 'Perceptual teleology: expectations of action efficiency bias social perception', was written by Matthew Hudson, Katrina McDonough, Rhys Edwards, Rob Ellis and Dr Patric Bach from the University of Plymouth School of Psychology. It is available to view in Proceedings of the Royal Society B (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0638).

University of Plymouth

Related Predictions Articles:

Researchers study why neural networks are efficient in their predictions
A study has tested the predictions of a neural network to check whether they coincide with actual results.
Climate predictions several years into the future?
In five years, will the winter be mild, and will the following summer be rainy?
Applying mathematics to accelerate predictions for capturing fusion energy
PPPL scientists have borrowed a technique from applied mathematics to rapidly predict the behavior of fusion plasma at a much-reduced computational cost.
Researchers hope to improve future epidemic predictions
As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, a new mathematical model could offer insights on how to improve future epidemic predictions based on how information mutates as it is transmitted from person to person and group to group.
We can make predictions about relationships - but is this necessary?
'Predictions as to the longevity of a relationship are definitely possible,' says Dr Christine Finn from the University of Jena.
New open-source software judges accuracy of computer predictions of cancer genetics
Researchers at the Crick, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Oregon Health & Science University, the Oxford Big Data Institute, and the University of Toronto have created new open-source software which determines the accuracy of computer predictions of genetic variation within tumor samples.
Scientists improve yield predictions based on seedling data
A doctor diagnosing a 50-year-old patient based on a blood test taken during the patient's infancy would be unthinkable.
Better wildfire and smoke predictions with new vegetation database
Researchers have created the first comprehensive database of all the wildfire fuels that have been measured across North America.
New tornado casualty analysis will improve future predictions
Tyler Fricker, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University, recently published research in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers that gives insights into tornado casualty rates across the United States and casualty prediction models.
A climate model developed by ISGlobal provides long-term predictions of 'El Niño' events
For the first time, a tool can predict episodes up to two-and-a-half years in advance.
More Predictions News and Predictions Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Sound And Silence
Sound surrounds us, from cacophony even to silence. But depending on how we hear, the world can be a different auditory experience for each of us. This hour, TED speakers explore the science of sound. Guests on the show include NPR All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly, neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, writer Rebecca Knill, and sound designer Dallas Taylor.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.