Seems real

Kevin Lewis

June 24, 2017

A social Bouba/Kiki effect: A bias for people whose names match their faces
David Barton & Jamin Halberstadt
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, forthcoming


The “bouba/kiki effect” is the robust tendency to associate rounded objects (vs. angular objects) with names that require rounding of the mouth to pronounce, and may reflect synesthesia-like mapping across perceptual modalities. Here we show for the first time a “social” bouba/kiki effect, such that experimental participants associate round names (“Bob,” “Lou”) with round-faced (vs. angular-faced) individuals. Moreover, consistent with a bias for expectancy-consistent information, we find that participants like targets with “matching” names, both when name-face fit is measured and when it is experimentally manipulated. Finally, we show that such bias could have important practical consequences: An analysis of voting data reveals that Senatorial candidates earn 10% more votes when their names fit their faces very well, versus very poorly. These and similar cross-modal congruencies suggest that social judgment involves not only amodal application of stored information (e.g., stereotypes) to new stimuli, but also integration of perceptual and bodily input.

The Human Fetus Preferentially Engages with Face-like Visual Stimuli
Vincent Reid et al.
Current Biology, 19 June 2017, Pages 1825–1828


In the third trimester of pregnancy, the human fetus has the capacity to process perceptual information. With advances in 4D ultrasound technology, detailed assessment of fetal behavior is now possible. Furthermore, modeling of intrauterine conditions has indicated a substantially greater luminance within the uterus than previously thought. Consequently, light conveying perceptual content could be projected through the uterine wall and perceived by the fetus, dependent on how light interfaces with maternal tissue. We do know that human infants at birth show a preference to engage with a top-heavy, face-like stimulus when contrasted with all other forms of stimuli. However, the viability of performing such an experiment based on visual stimuli projected through the uterine wall with fetal participants is not currently known. We examined fetal head turns to visually presented upright and inverted face-like stimuli. Here we show that the fetus in the third trimester of pregnancy is more likely to engage with upright configural stimuli when contrasted to inverted visual stimuli, in a manner similar to results with newborn participants. The current study suggests that postnatal experience is not required for this preference. In addition, we describe a new method whereby it is possible to deliver specific visual stimuli to the fetus. This new technique provides an important new pathway for the assessment of prenatal visual perceptual capacities.

The Nature-Disorder Paradox: A Perceptual Study on How Nature Is Disorderly Yet Aesthetically Preferred
Hiroki Kotabe, Omid Kardan & Marc Berman
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming


Natural environments have powerful aesthetic appeal linked to their capacity for psychological restoration. In contrast, disorderly environments are aesthetically aversive, and have various detrimental psychological effects. But in our research, we have repeatedly found that natural environments are perceptually disorderly. What could explain this paradox? We present 3 competing hypotheses: the aesthetic preference for naturalness is more powerful than the aesthetic aversion to disorder (the nature-trumps-disorder hypothesis); disorder is trivial to aesthetic preference in natural contexts (the harmless-disorder hypothesis); and disorder is aesthetically preferred in natural contexts (the beneficial-disorder hypothesis). Utilizing novel methods of perceptual study and diverse stimuli, we rule in the nature-trumps-disorder hypothesis and rule out the harmless-disorder and beneficial-disorder hypotheses. In examining perceptual mechanisms, we find evidence that high-level scene semantics are both necessary and sufficient for the nature-trumps-disorder effect. Necessity is evidenced by the effect disappearing in experiments utilizing only low-level visual stimuli (i.e., where scene semantics have been removed) and experiments utilizing a rapid-scene-presentation procedure that obscures scene semantics. Sufficiency is evidenced by the effect reappearing in experiments utilizing noun stimuli which remove low-level visual features. Furthermore, we present evidence that the interaction of scene semantics with low-level visual features amplifies the nature-trumps-disorder effect — the effect is weaker both when statistically adjusting for quantified low-level visual features and when using noun stimuli which remove low-level visual features. These results have implications for psychological theories bearing on the joint influence of low- and high-level perceptual inputs on affect and cognition, as well as for aesthetic design.

Pupillary Responses to Words That Convey a Sense of Brightness or Darkness
Sebastiaan Mathôt, Jonathan Grainger & Kristof Strijkers
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Theories about embodiment of language hold that when you process a word’s meaning, you automatically simulate associated sensory input (e.g., perception of brightness when you process lamp) and prepare associated actions (e.g., finger movements when you process typing). To test this latter prediction, we measured pupillary responses to single words that conveyed a sense of brightness (e.g., day) or darkness (e.g., night) or were neutral (e.g., house). We found that pupils were largest for words conveying darkness, of intermediate size for neutral words, and smallest for words conveying brightness. This pattern was found for both visually presented and spoken words, which suggests that it was due to the words’ meanings, rather than to visual or auditory properties of the stimuli. Our findings suggest that word meaning is sufficient to trigger a pupillary response, even when this response is not imposed by the experimental task, and even when this response is beyond voluntary control.

On Feeling Warm and Being Warm: Daily Perceptions of Physical Warmth Fluctuate With Interpersonal Warmth
Adam Fetterman, Benjamin Wilkowski & Michael Robinson
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


Previous investigations have linked laboratory manipulations of physical warmth to momentary increases in interpersonal warmth. However, replication concerns have occurred in this area, and it is not known whether similar dynamics characterize daily functioning. Two daily diary studies (total N = 235) suggest an affirmative answer. On days in which participants felt physically warmer, they perceived themselves to be interpersonally warmer and more agreeable, irrespective of the outdoor temperature. These findings are consistent with frameworks proposing that people draw on concepts of physical warmth to represent feelings of interpersonal warmth and they highlight the value of using daily diary and within-subject designs to investigate embodied cognition as well as other priming effects.

Are You Smiling, or Have I Seen You Before? Familiarity Makes Faces Look Happier
Evan Carr, Timothy Brady & Piotr Winkielman
Psychological Science, forthcoming


It is clear that unreinforced repetition (familiarization) influences affective responses to social stimuli, but its effects on the perception of facial emotion are unknown. Reporting the results of two experiments, we show for the first time that repeated exposure enhances the perceived happiness of facial expressions. In Experiment 1, using a paradigm in which subjects’ responses were orthogonal to happiness in order to avoid response biases, we found that faces of individuals who had previously been shown were deemed happier than novel faces. In Experiment 2, we replicated this effect with a rapid “happy or angry” categorization task. Using psychometric function fitting, we found that for subjects to classify a face as happy, they needed less actual happiness to be present in the face if the target was familiar than if it was novel. Critically, our results suggest that familiar faces appear happier than novel faces because familiarity selectively enhances the impact of positive stimulus features.

Thought-Control Difficulty Motivates Structure Seeking
Anyi Ma et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming


Struggling to control one’s mind can change how the world appears. In prior studies testing the compensatory control theory, reduced control over the external environment motivated the search for perceptual patterns and other forms of structured knowledge, even in remote domains. Going further, the current studies test whether difficulty controlling thoughts similarly predicts structure seeking. As hypothesized, thought-control difficulty positively predicted perceptions of causal connections between remote events (Study 1a) and nonexistent objects in visual noise (Study 1b). This effect was mediated by aversive arousal (Study 2) and caused specifically by thought-control difficulty as distinct from general difficulty (Study 3). Study 4 replicated the effect with a sample of meditators learning to control their thoughts, showing that thought-control difficulty was a powerful predictor of structure seeking. These findings reveal a novel form of motivated perception.

Selectively Distracted: Divided Attention and Memory for Important Information
Catherine Middlebrooks, Tyson Kerr & Alan Castel
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Distractions and multitasking are generally detrimental to learning and memory. Nevertheless, people often study while listening to music, sitting in noisy coffee shops, or intermittently checking their e-mail. The current experiments examined how distractions and divided attention influence one’s ability to selectively remember valuable information. Participants studied lists of words that ranged in value from 1 to 10 points while completing a digit-detection task, while listening to music, or without distractions. Though participants recalled fewer words following digit detection than in the other conditions, there were no significant differences between conditions in terms of selectively remembering the most valuable words. Similar results were obtained across a variety of divided-attention tasks that stressed attention and working memory to different degrees, which suggests that people may compensate for divided-attention costs by selectively attending to the most valuable items and that factors that worsen memory do not necessarily impair the ability to selectively remember important information.

Inhibition of Lateral Prefrontal Cortex Produces Emotionally Biased First Impressions: A Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and Electroencephalography Study
Regina Lapate et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Optimal functioning in everyday life requires the ability to override reflexive emotional responses and prevent affective spillover to situations or people unrelated to the source of emotion. In the current study, we investigated whether the lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) causally regulates the influence of emotional information on subsequent judgments. We disrupted left lPFC function using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and recorded electroencephalography (EEG) before and after. Subjects evaluated the likeability of novel neutral faces after a brief exposure to a happy or fearful face. We found that lPFC inhibition biased evaluations of novel faces according to the previously processed emotional expression. Greater frontal EEG alpha power, reflecting increased inhibition by TMS, predicted increased behavioral bias. TMS-induced affective misattribution was long-lasting: Emotionally biased first impressions formed during lPFC inhibition were still detectable outside of the laboratory 3 days later. These findings indicate that lPFC serves an important emotion-regulation function by preventing incidental emotional encoding from automatically biasing subsequent appraisals.

The Average Facial Expression of a Crowd Influences Impressions of Individual Expressions
Sarah Griffiths et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, forthcoming


People can accurately assess the “mood of a crowd” by rapidly extracting the average intensity of all the individual expressions, when the crowd consists of a set of faces comprising different expressions of the same individual. Here, we investigate the processes involved when people judge the expression intensity of individual faces that appear in the context of a more naturalistic crowd of different individuals’ faces. We show that judgments of the intensity of happy and angry expressions for individual faces are biased toward the group mean expression intensity, even when the faces are all different individuals. In a second experiment, we demonstrate that this bias is not due to a generic tendency to endorse intermediate intensity expressions more frequently than more extreme intensity expressions. Together, these findings suggest that people integrate ensemble information about the group average expression when they make judgments of individual faces’ expressions.

So Close I Can Almost Sense It: The Interplay between Sensory Imagery and Psychological Distance
Ryan Elder et al.
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming


Across the five sensory modalities we examine an unexplored difference in imagery: psychological distance. In particular, we propose that imagined senses can be psychologically more proximal or distal based on the maximum physical distance typically required for a stimulus to be sensed. Specifically, we propose that imagined senses that require close proximity to the body in order to be sensed (i.e., taste, touch) will feel more psychologically proximal than senses that do not require such close proximity (i.e., hearing, sight). We obtain support for our theoretical framework across a pilot study, four lab studies, and one field study by examining how images evoked using different sensory modalities differentially influence variables shown in past research to vary along psychological distance: (1) the imagined distance between the consumer and the stimulus, (2) product perceptions on other dimensions of psychological distance, and (3) persuasion when matched with other dimensions of psychological distance.

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