The Invisible World of Human Perception [news release]
Stage magicians are not the only ones who can distract the eye: a new cognitive psychology experiment demonstrates how all human beings have a built-in ability to stop paying attention to objects that are right in front of them.
We see much less of the world than we think we do
Perception experts have long known that we see much less of the world than we think we do. A person creates a mental model of their surroundings by stitching together scraps of visual information gleaned while shifting attention from place to place. Counterintuitively, the very process that creates the illusion of a complete picture relies on filtering out most of what’s out there.
In a paper published today in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics a team of U of T researchers reveal how people have more “top-down” control of what they don’t notice than many scientists previously believed.
“The visual system really cares about objects,” says postdoctoral fellow J. Eric T. Taylor, who is the lead author on the paper. “If I move around a room, the locations of all the objects — chairs, tables, doors, walls, etc. — change on my retina, but my mental representation of the room stays the same.”
Objects play fundamental role in how we focus our attention
Objects play such a fundamental role in how we focus our attention that many perception researchers believe we are “addicted” to them; we couldn’t stop paying attention to objects if we tried. The visual brain guides attention largely by selecting objects — and this process is widely believed to be automatic.
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