SEP 10, 2022 8:00 AM PDT

What You See Isn't What You Get - The Science of Perception

WRITTEN BY: Joshua Aeh

People are different, with different backgrounds, different experiences, and different lives. So, it may come as no surprise that how we see things is unique to each of us. But why is that?

A recent study has shown that objects are perceived differently from person to person, and this personal perception relies on previous knowledge and experience with a given object. This study has informed researchers on how the visual system processes these objects and where in the human brain this process happens.

How we interact with objects is determined by how we perceive them, and how we perceive them depends on how quickly and detailed our visual system and brain process these objects. But when we come across an object with our eyes, how we perceive and process it can be different from what we know about the object in question. The study showed that if an object is recognized as a tool, it will be perceived faster but in less detail. If, on the other hand, the object is recognized as a non-tool, the detail will be greater but perceived slower.

Images of objects that could be easily manipulated by hand (a screwdriver, snow shovel, or coffee mug) or infrequently manipulated by hand (a potted plant, a fire hydrant, or a picture frame) were used by the researchers for the study. The researchers then showed several of these images to the participants to gain insight into how the human brain can visually process an object. They also were curious to know what regions of the brain were in use when processing the object.

They divided the experiment into two halves. The research team could cut out a small gap at the bottom of each object in one half. In the other half, the objects could flicker on a screen. To figure out how fast and to what level of detail the objects were being processed, the researchers asked that the participants notate the absence or presence of a flicker or a gap.

They noticed that objects usually manipulated by hand were perceived much faster than objects that were non-manipulable, thereby allowing the flickering to be seen more easily. On the other hand, the objects that are not usually manipulated by hand were perceived in greater detail, allowing the viewer to see the small gaps much more effortlessly.

They also found that knowing the purpose of an object determines how well one will perceive - in both detail and speed - the object and where in the brain the processing of the object will take place. The visual system is responsible for sorting these objects into different brain regions.

However, if one were to make it more difficult to recognize an object by interfering with object recognition, then the difference in detail and speed of the objects disappear.

Everybody is different, with different backgrounds and experiences and different lives. And how we see things is unique to each of us. This study may explain the reason for individual differences in object perception. And not only that, it underscores that what a person knows about an object and their personal experience with any object has a direct consequence on perception.

Sources: Science Daily, Sage Journals, GWU

About the Author
BS in Exercise Science
Currently a Tissue Recovery Technician with a background in Exercise Science working on the side as a Writer with an interest in all things science.
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