Bodies, actions, and the structure of experience
- Psychologists have traditionally treated perception and action as separate mental faculties, but an emerging view suggests that we perceive the world in terms of how it affords action, and that there is significant overlap in the cognitive representations supporting perceptual and motor processes. However, there are a number of open questions regarding the scope and breadth of this perspective. I addressed this issue in three series of experiments designed to illuminate how our everyday physical experiences in the environment can influence, organize, and constrain our perceptual and cognitive processes. If perception and action are dynamically linked in experience, do they become dynamically linked in the mind as well? In a first set of studies I asked just how deeply our motor experiences penetrate into our perceptual processes. Can action representations qualitatively affect what objects we see? In Experiments 1-3, participants viewed an action hand prime followed by an ambiguous image, and they were biased to perceive an object that was congruent with (i.e. afforded the same action as) the primed action. In Experiment 4, participants engaged in a real motor action while viewing the ambiguous image. In this case they were biased to perceive an object that was incongruent with the motor action being carried out. This is the first evidence for a qualitative effect of action representation on object perception. The specific pattern of results helps constrain possible underlying mechanisms, strongly suggesting that the same representations support both our ability to perceive and plan an action towards an object. These findings suggest that our physical motor experiences with objects shapes our ability to perceive those objects. Do these physical encounters also constrain our ability to imagine those objects? Participants in Experiment 5 were slower to mentally rotate an object that was harder to physically rotate when they engaged in motor imagery. This effect disappeared when they used visual imagery, however. This suggests that our physical motor experiences with an object do constrain our ability to imagine manipulating that object, but that we can loosen these constraints by flexibly adopting an alternative imagery strategy. Do we only represent the relationships between action and perception when we actively engage with an object (e.g. pick it up or move it), or are we more generally sensitive to the contingent relationships between our body movements and the structure of the perceptual information we have access to? For example, do we represent how our body position relates to the spatial orientation of objects in the world? To address this issue, I note that in our everyday experiences, faces tend to appear upright with respect to both our eyes (egocentric reference frame) and the world (environmental reference frame). Further, our movements and body positioning give us access to both types of orientation information. In Experiments 6-11, participants performed face-processing tasks as they lay horizontally, which served to disassociate the egocentric and environmental frames. The results revealed large effects of egocentric orientation on performance and smaller but reliable effects of environmental orientation. This suggests that we are sensitive to how our body movements co-vary with the spatial structure of the visual information we have access to. I conclude by suggesting that bidirectional effects of action on perception may be a natural consequence of well-established psychological principles, such as the power of statistical learning. Central to this argument is the realization that our bodies and actions help create the very structure of the world that we experience. This suggests that to fully understand any given perceptual or cognitive ability we need to take the role of embodied experience seriously.
|Type of resource
|electronic; electronic resource; remote
|1 online resource.
|Stanford University, Department of Psychology
|Clark, Herbert H
|McClelland, James L
|Clark, Herbert H
|McClelland, James L
|Statement of responsibility
|Stephen J. Flusberg.
|Submitted to the Department of Psychology.
|Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2012.
- © 2012 by Stephen Flusberg
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).
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