Study: What We See Is Distorted By What We Expect To See

What you see and what you expect to see impact each other more than you might expect. In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers had 85 participants watch an actor reach for an object with a straight or arched trajectory on a touch screen. In some screenings of the actions, an obstruction was put in between the hand and the object it was reaching for. The arched trajectory was expected to avoid the obstruction, while the straight trajectory was expected to knock into it (making in “inefficient.”) Results showed that people thought that the straight trajectory hand moved higher if it was inefficient, to avoid the obstruction, while the arched trajectory hand was further downwards towards the target if there was no obstruction. In both cases the perceptions were based on what participant’s expected the hand to do to maximize efficiency– not what it actually did. Study author Matthew Hudson says the finding is important because it “shows that people make predictions when they see the actions of others” and that “people ‘see’ other’s actions in the light of their own expectations” which “might explain why people often get others’ actions so wrong and see ambiguous behavior as meaningful.”