Bigger targets are easier to hit, obviously. But did you know this relationship works backwards? That is, targets that we consider hittable look bigger as a result. The finding is consistent with James Gibson’s Theory of Affordances, whereby the ways we can use our bodies to interact with the environment affects our perception of that environment.
Yang Lee at Gyeongsang National University in South Korea, and his colleagues, began their study by asking nine experienced archers to fire at targets of five different sizes located 50 meters away. After they released each arrow, the participants were instructed to turn their heads so that they couldn’t see the path of their shot. Upon each arrow hitting home, a screen was also pulled across to prevent the archers from seeing how successful they’d been.
After each shot, the archers chose which of 18 miniature targets on a card most closely matched the size of the target they’d just fired at. The size of the miniatures went from 10mm diameter to 27mm, designed to represent the apparent size of the real target, as seen from a 50m distance.
Although they couldn’t see the success of the shots they’d fired, the archers’ judgements of the size of the targets was related to the accuracy of their shots. In fact, their size judgments were more strongly related to their accuracy than they were to the actual size of the targets. Specifically, targets were perceived as bigger after a more accurate shot, even though the archers had no access to objective feedback about their performance.
Lee and his colleagues think that archers are able to tell how hittable a shot is based on bodily feedback about their form and chances of success. If a target is hittable then it is adaptive (i.e. useful in an evolutionary sense) that it should be perceived as larger. To test this idea, a second study involved 20 novices preparing to shoot arrows at targets located 50m away. In this study, the participants didn’t actually fire the arrows. After each drawing of an arrow, they stopped and estimated the size of the distant target. The crucial twist was that some arrows were drawn back with the aid of a stabilising tripod and some weren’t. The aim of the stabiliser was to provoke the sense in the archers, based on bodily feedback, that they had a better chance of hitting the target. In turn this was expected to affect their perception of the targets. That’s exactly what was found – targets were perceived to be larger after they’d been viewed in the context of a stabilised draw back.
These intriguing new findings add to a growing literature linking performance with size estimations – for example, it’s also been shown that golf putters perceive holes as bigger after a successful putt.
Lee Y, Lee S, Carello C, & Turvey MT (2012). An Archer’s Perceived Form Scales the “Hitableness” of Archery Targets. Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance PMID: 22731994