Seeing it

Kevin Lewis

March 18, 2017

Inferring Perspective Versus Getting Perspective: Underestimating the Value of Being in Another Person’s Shoes

Haotian Zhou, Elizabeth Majka & Nicholas Epley

Psychological Science, forthcoming

People use at least two strategies to solve the challenge of understanding another person’s mind: inferring that person’s perspective by reading his or her behavior (theorization) and getting that person’s perspective by experiencing his or her situation (simulation). The five experiments reported here demonstrate a strong tendency for people to underestimate the value of simulation. Predictors estimated a stranger’s emotional reactions toward 50 pictures. They could either infer the stranger’s perspective by reading his or her facial expressions or simulate the stranger’s perspective by watching the pictures he or she viewed. Predictors were substantially more accurate when they got perspective through simulation, but overestimated the accuracy they had achieved by inferring perspective. Predictors’ miscalibrated confidence stemmed from overestimating the information revealed through facial expressions and underestimating the similarity in people’s reactions to a given situation. People seem to underappreciate a useful strategy for understanding the minds of others, even after they gain firsthand experience with both strategies.


Of guns and snakes: Testing a modern threat superiority effect

Baptiste Subra et al.

Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming

Previous studies suggest that ancient (i.e. evolutionary-based) threats capture attention because human beings possess an inborn module shaped by evolution and dedicated to their detection. An alternative account proposes that a key feature predicting whether a stimulus will capture attention is its relevance rather than its ontology (i.e. phylogenetic or ontogenetic threat). Within this framework, the present research deals with the attentional capture by threats commonly encountered in our urban environment. In two experiments, we investigate the attentional capture by modern threats (i.e. weapons). In Experiment 1, participants responded to a target preceded by a cue, which was a weapon or a non-threatening stimulus. We found a larger cuing effect (faster reaction times to valid vs. invalid trials) with weapons as compared with non-threatening cues. In Experiment 2, modern (e.g. weapons) and ancient threats (e.g. snakes) were pitted against one another as cues to determine which ones preferentially capture attention. Crucially, participants were faster to detect a target preceded by a modern as opposed to an ancient threat, providing initial evidence for a superiority of modern threat. Overall, the present findings appear more consistent with a relevance-based explanation rather than an evolutionary-based explanation of threat detection.


The “Common Good” Phenomenon: Why Similarities Are Positive and Differences Are Negative

Hans Alves, Alex Koch & Christian Unkelbach

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Positive attributes are more prevalent than negative attributes in the social environment. From this basic assumption, 2 implications that have been overlooked thus far: Positive compared with negative attributes are more likely to be shared by individuals, and people’s shared attributes (similarities) are more positive than their unshared attributes (differences). Consequently, similarity-based comparisons should lead to more positive evaluations than difference-based comparisons. We formalized our probabilistic reasoning in a model and tested its predictions in a simulation and 8 experiments (N = 1,181). When participants generated traits about 2 target persons, positive compared with negative traits were more likely to be shared by the targets (Experiment 1a) and by other participants’ targets (Experiment 1b). Conversely, searching for targets’ shared traits resulted in more positive traits than searching for unshared traits (Experiments 2, 4a, and 4b). In addition, positive traits were more accessible than negative traits among shared traits but not among unshared traits (Experiment 3). Finally, shared traits were only more positive when positive traits were indeed prevalent (Experiments 5 and 6). The current framework has a number of implications for comparison processes and provides a new interpretation of well-known evaluative asymmetries such as intergroup bias and self-superiority effects.


The Grounded Nature of Psychological Perspective-Taking

Thorsten Erle & Sascha Topolinski

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Psychological perspective-taking is a powerful social cognition that helps us to understand other people. It creates feelings of closeness and sympathy, motivates us to help others, and is important for positive social relationships. In contrast to the impressive knowledge about its consequences, relatively little is known about how exactly people achieve them. The present paper addresses this question from a grounded cognition perspective, drawing on recent findings on the embodiment of visuospatial perspective-taking. Visuospatial perspective-taking involves a mental transformation of one’s body schema into the physical location of another person. We argue that when people psychologically “put themselves in another person’s shoes,” this simulation of physical proximity happens, too, and is one source of perceived closeness. In five experiments (total N = 1067), participants completed a visuospatial perspective-taking task. During half of the trials, angular disparity between the target person and the participant was high and participants had to adopt the target’s visual perspective (which involves an embodied simulation). During the remaining trials, angular disparity was low and participants could solve the task egocentrically. Taking another’s perspective led participants to adopt the thoughts of the target person more strongly (Experiments 1–3) and increased the perceived similarity of that person to the self (Experiment 4) and participants’ liking of that person (Experiment 5). These effects were independent of task difficulty (Experiment 2), and only present during trials where an embodied transformation happened (i.e., at high angular disparities; Experiment 3). Implications for psychological and visuospatial perspective-taking research and related phenomena are discussed.


Neuroplus biofeedback improves attention, resilience, and injury prevention in elite soccer players

Aiace Rusciano, Giuliano Corradini & Ivilin Stoianov

Psychophysiology, forthcoming

Performance and injury prevention in elite soccer players are typically investigated from physical-tactical, biomechanical, and metabolic perspectives. However, executive functions, visuospatial abilities, and psychophysiological adaptability or resilience are also fundamental for efficiency and well-being in sports. Based on previous research associating autonomic flexibility with prefrontal cortical control, we designed a novel integrated autonomic biofeedback training method called Neuroplus to improve resilience, visual attention, and injury prevention. Herein, we introduce the method and provide an evaluation of 20 elite soccer players from the Italian Soccer High Division (Serie-A): 10 players trained with Neuroplus and 10 trained with a control treatment. The assessments included psychophysiological stress profiles, a visual search task, and indexes of injury prevention, which were measured pre- and posttreatment. The analysis showed a significant enhancement of physiological adaptability, recovery following stress, visual selective attention, and injury prevention that were specific to the Neuroplus group. Enhancing the interplay between autonomic and cognitive functions through biofeedback may become a key principle for obtaining excellence and well-being in sports. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that shows improvement in visual selective attention following intense autonomic biofeedback.


Familiar Real-World Spatial Cues Provide Memory Benefits in Older and Younger Adults

Jessica Robin & Morris Moscovitch

Psychology and Aging, forthcoming

Episodic memory, future thinking, and memory for scenes have all been proposed to rely on the hippocampus, and evidence suggests that these all decline in healthy aging. Despite this age-related memory decline, studies examining the effects of context reinstatement on episodic memory have demonstrated that reinstating elements of the encoding context of an event leads to better memory retrieval in both younger and older adults. The current study was designed to test whether more familiar, real-world contexts, such as locations that participants visited often, would improve the detail richness and vividness of memory for scenes, autobiographical events, and imagination of future events in young and older adults. The predicted age-related decline in internal details across all 3 conditions was accompanied by persistent effects of contextual familiarity, in which a more familiar spatial context led to increased detail and vividness of remembered scenes, autobiographical events, and, to some extent, imagined future events. This study demonstrates that autobiographical memory, imagination of the future, and scene memory are similarly affected by aging, and all benefit from being associated with more familiar (real-world) contexts, illustrating the stability of contextual reinstatement effects on memory throughout the life span.


Harnessing the Placebo Effect: Exploring the Influence of Physician Characteristics on Placebo Response

Lauren Howe, Parker Goyer & Alia Crum

Health Psychology, forthcoming

Methods: After inducing an allergic reaction in participants through a histamine skin prick test, a health care provider administered a cream with no active ingredients and set either positive expectations (cream will reduce reaction) or negative expectations (cream will increase reaction). The provider demonstrated either high or low warmth, or either high or low competence.

Results: The impact of expectations on allergic response was enhanced when the provider acted both warmer and more competent and negated when the provider acted colder and less competent.


Reading What the Mind Thinks From How the Eye Sees

Daniel Lee & Adam Anderson

Psychological Science, forthcoming

Human eyes convey a remarkable variety of complex social and emotional information. However, it is unknown which physical eye features convey mental states and how that came about. In the current experiments, we tested the hypothesis that the receiver’s perception of mental states is grounded in expressive eye appearance that serves an optical function for the sender. Specifically, opposing features of eye widening versus eye narrowing that regulate sensitivity versus discrimination not only conveyed their associated basic emotions (e.g., fear vs. disgust, respectively) but also conveyed opposing clusters of complex mental states that communicate sensitivity versus discrimination (e.g., awe vs. suspicion). This sensitivity-discrimination dimension accounted for the majority of variance in perceived mental states (61.7%). Further, these eye features remained diagnostic of these complex mental states even in the context of competing information from the lower face. These results demonstrate that how humans read complex mental states may be derived from a basic optical principle of how people see.


Social Information Influences Emotional Experience and Late Positive Potential Response to Affective Pictures

Emily Willroth, Leonie Koban & Matthew Hilimire

Emotion, forthcoming

Emotion experience and regulation frequently occur in social settings. Social influence is a common source of unconscious change in judgment in many contexts, but it has yet to be investigated as a form of automatic emotion regulation. Here, we demonstrate that nonpredictive social information (i.e., high or low “emotion intensity ratings from other people” that were not related to the actual intensity of the pictures) about the intensity of pleasant and unpleasant picture stimuli can influence self-reported emotional experience and the magnitude of the late positive potential, an event-related potential associated with the detection of emotional salience and sustained attention to motivationally significant stimulus features. These results show that emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant affective pictures can be altered by nonpredictive social information on both the behavioral and the neurophysiological level.


Explaining Sad People’s Memory Advantage for Faces

Peter Hills et al.

Frontiers in Psychology, February 2017

Sad people recognize faces more accurately than happy people (Hills et al., 2011). We devised four hypotheses for this finding that are tested between in the current study. The four hypotheses are: (1) sad people engage in more expert processing associated with face processing; (2) sad people are motivated to be more accurate than happy people in an attempt to repair their mood; (3) sad people have a defocused attentional strategy that allows more information about a face to be encoded; and (4) sad people scan more of the face than happy people leading to more facial features to be encoded. In Experiment 1, we found that dysphoria (sad mood often associated with depression) was not correlated with the face-inversion effect (a measure of expert processing) nor with response times but was correlated with defocused attention and recognition accuracy. Experiment 2 established that dysphoric participants detected changes made to more facial features than happy participants. In Experiment 3, using eye-tracking we found that sad-induced participants sampled more of the face whilst avoiding the eyes. Experiment 4 showed that sad-induced people demonstrated a smaller own-ethnicity bias. These results indicate that sad people show different attentional allocation to faces than happy and neutral people.


Composition in portraits: Selfies and wefies reveal similar biases in untrained modern youths and ancient masters

Nicola Bruno, Carole Bode & Marco Bertamini

Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, May/June 2017, Pages 279-293

Previous analyses suggest that artists prefer poses showing the left side of the subject’s face when composing a portrait, but showing the right side when composing their own self-portrait. There is also some evidence that artists may prefer compositions with key features on the right of the picture. Do these findings generalize to spontaneous, pseudo-artistic productions by individuals with no formal training in painting and art history? To investigate this issue, we tested a sample of 104 British schoolchildren and teenagers (mean age = 13.8 years; 80 females). We analysed posing biases in individual photographic self-portraits (“selfies”) as well as of self-portraits including also the portrait of a friend (“wefies”). Our results document a bias for showing the left cheek in selfies, a bias for placing the selfie-taker on the right in wefies, and a bias for showing two left cheeks over two right cheeks, again in wefies. These biases are reminiscent of what has been reported for selfies in adult non-artists and for portraits and self-portraits by artists in the 16th–18th centuries. Thus, these results provide new evidence in support of a biological basis for side biases in portraits and self-portraits independently of training and expertise.


Are Portrait Artists Superior Face Recognizers? Limited Impact of Adult Experience on Face Recognition Ability

Jeremy Tree et al.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, forthcoming

Across 2 studies, the authors asked whether extensive experience in portrait art is associated with face recognition ability. In Study 1, 64 students completed a standardized face recognition test before and after completing a year-long art course that included substantial portraiture training. They found no evidence of an improvement in face recognition after training over and above what would be expected by practice alone. In Study 2, the authors investigated the possibility that more extensive experience might be needed for such advantages to emerge, by testing a cohort of expert portrait artists (N = 28), all of whom had many years of experience. In addition to memory for faces, they also explored memory for abstract art and for words in a paired-associate recognition test. The expert portrait artists performed similarly to a large, normative comparison sample on memory for faces and words but showed a small advantage for abstract art. Taken together, the results converge with existing literature to suggest that there is relatively little plasticity in face recognition in adulthood, at which point our substantial everyday experience with faces may have pushed us to the limits of our capabilities.

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