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Social and Motivational Influences on Perceptual Judgments

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Unlike social judgments, perceptual judgments are anchored in concrete reality and should not depend on contextual factors. Indeed, traditional theories of perception have assumed that visual processing is not influenced by top-down cognitive processes and is thus driven entirely by physical properties of the environment (Pylyshyn, 1984). However, recent research suggests that perceptions of physical space can depend on social and emotional considerations. In contrast to theoretical approaches that view visual perception as a low-level process that is entirely independent of situational constraints, many studies support the notion that visual perception takes place in an “embodied” fashion. I will review our recent work to suggest that the perception of spatial layout takes into account social and physiological resources and motivational states. Thus, rather than constituting objective reality, the perception of space is a reflection of the extent to which various resources allow an observer to act in it.

Simone Schnall is a University Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, where she directs the Cambridge Embodied Cognition and Emotion Laboratory, and a Fellow of Jesus College. By combining insights and methods from social psychology and cognitive science Schnall’s work aims to understand how people make judgments and decisions about other people, and about physical properties of the world. In particular, the research examines the role of bodily influences in the context of moral judgments and behaviours and perceptions of the spatial environment. She currently serves as Associate Editor for Social Psychological and Personality Science and Consulting Editor for Perspectives on Psychological Science.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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