Friends Serve to Lighten Our Load: The Role of Social Resources in Visual Perception

Gross, Elizabeth, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Proffitt, Dennis, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Recent research suggests that slant perception is scaled by social costs and resources; those imagining negative social support give higher slant estimates than those imagining positive social support. However, there has been no systematic investigation on how individual differences might interact with both social support and varying social environments to produce changes in visual perception. Furthermore, given an embodied account of perception, it is unclear how social support might function to alter visual perception. First, the effect of social support on slant perception was replicated, with added measures to assess individual differences.

The current study found that both the costs and benefits of social support are amplified for those that rely more on their social network. Extroverts and securely attached individuals benefit more from positive support but exhibit a higher perceptual cost when imagining a betrayal. Next, two studies investigated whether supportive physical touch can serve as a signal regarding the availability of physiological resources. These studies found that supportive physical touch can raise blood glucose levels, but only for securely attached individuals; alternatively, for insecurely attached individuals, supportive physical touch resulted in a decline in blood glucose. In these studies, social support varies with attachment style to function as either a signal for additional physiological resources or as a physiological cost. The third experiment investigated whether the effects of social support on visual perception generalizes to all aspects of perception. In this study, social support was shown to only affect target distance estimates, which can be scaled with physiological resources, but does not affect block size nor reach ability estimates, which are scaled by morphology. Together, these study results suggest that social support alters visual perception by signaling the availability physiological resources. Finally, a large online study conducted a systematic investigation into the various aspects of social support that might uniquely predict slant estimates. The study had null results, which could be due to a lack of affordances or the lack of a social environment. Together, the above findings elucidate the complexities of the interactions between individual differences and social environments that produce changes in visual perception, and emphasize the pervasive nature of the social environment on even the most basic of cognitive processes, visual perception.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
perception, social support
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