Reachability Influences Perception via Motor Simulation

Witt, Jessica Kate, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Proffitt, Dennis, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Willingham, Dan, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Epstein, Bill, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Deloache, Judy, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Green, Mitch

For over 100 years, researchers have attempted to delineate the information involved in distance perception, and in so doing, have focused solely on optical information. However, what we see reflects more than what is in the environment; what we see depends on our abilities to act and our intentions to act. Although this phenomenon is often experienced by athletes (for example, baseball players sometimes report that the ball looks bigger when they are hitting well), the notion that a perceiver's ability to act influences perception has only been recently entertained in perceptual research. In a series of studies, I manipulated people's bodies to enhance their ability to perform an action. Specifically, I gave people tools, which extended their ability to reach to targets, and measured corresponding changes in distance perception. I demonstrated that targets looked closer when they were within reach as a result of holding the tool compared with when the participants did not hold a tool and could not reach to the targets. However, these effects are contingent on intention. Only when the perceiver intends to reach does holding a tool influence perceived distance. With the rest of the experiments, I explored possible mechanisms that underlie the effect of reachability on perceived distance. Specifically, I propose that when perceivers intend to perform a given action, they run an implicit motor simulation of the action, and the outcome of this simulation influences their perception. The experiments demonstrate that perception is a function of optical information as well as the perceiver's ability to perform intended actions and that the mechanism underlying these effects involves a motor simulation of the intended action.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF text

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
psychology, distance perception, motor simulation
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: