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:

Accuracy of physician and nurse predictions for survival, functional outcomes after an ICU admission
Physicians were more accurate in predicting the likelihood of death and less accurate in predicting cognitive abilities in six months for critically ill intensive care unit (ICU) patients; nurses' predictions were similar or less accurate, according to a study published by JAMA.
Penn study pinpoints accuracy of ICU doctors' and nurses' predictions of patient outcomes
A new study shows that ICU physicians are better at predicting whether patients will be alive in six months than they are at predicting patients' cognitive function in six months.
Dopamine neurons factor ambiguity into predictions enabling us to 'win big and win often'
In the struggle of life, evolution rewards animals that master their circumstances, especially when the environment changes.
How does the brain make perceptual predictions over time?
NYU neuroscientist David Heeger offers a new framework to explain how the brain makes predictions.
Scientists improve predictions of how temperature affects the survival of fish embryos
NOAA Fisheries Ecology Division and UC Santa Cruz researchers found the thermal tolerance of Chinook salmon embryos in the Sacramento River is much lower than expected from laboratory studies.
Snow data from satellites improves temperature predictions, UT researchers show
Researchers with The University of Texas at Austin have found that incorporating snow data collected from space into computer climate models can significantly improve seasonal temperature predictions.
Neurons do math to distinguish predictions from reality
Neir Eshel, a neuropsychiatry research pioneer who uncovered novel insights about how dopamine neurons are programmed to help us navigate the consequences of our choices, has been named the 2016 Grand Prize winner of the Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists.
Quicker and twice as accurate predictions
With ever-increasing amounts of online information available, modelling and predicting individual preferences for certain products is becoming more and more important.
The Lancet: China's recent two-child policy unlikely to lead to short-term population boom, according to new predictions
China's recently introduced universal two-child policy is predicted to have a relatively small effect on population growth, with a likely peak of 1.45 billion in 2029, compared to 1.4 billion in 2023 if the one-child policy had continued, according to academics writing in The Lancet.
Global climate models do not easily downscale for regional predictions
One size does not always fit all, especially when it comes to global climate models, according to Penn State climate researchers.

Related Predictions Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".