Category: Perception

We Have Many More Than Five Senses — Here’s How To Make The Most Of Them

By Emma Young

We’re all familiar with the phrase “healthy body, healthy mind”. But this doesn’t just refer to physical fitness and muscle strength: for a healthy mind, we need healthy senses, too. Fortunately, there’s now a wealth of evidence that we can train our many senses, to improve not only how we use our bodies, but how we think and behave, as well as how we feel. Trapped as we are in our own “perceptual bubbles”, it can be hard to appreciate not only that other people sense things differently — but that so can we, if we only put in a little effort.

But if we’re going to make the most of using and improving our senses to enhance our wellbeing, we have to consider more than sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Aristotle’s desperately outdated five sense model may still be popular, but it vastly under-estimates our extraordinary human capacity for sensing.

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Here’s What We Listen For When Deciding Whether A Speaker Is Lying Or Uncertain

By Emma Young

How do you know whether to trust what someone is telling you? There’s ongoing debate about which cues are reliable, and how good we are at recognising deception. But now a new paper in Nature Communications reveals that we reliably take a particular pattern of speech pitch, loudness and duration as indicating either that the person lying or that they’re unsure of what they’re saying — and that we do it without even being aware of what we’re tuning into.

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Our Brains “See” Beams Of Motion Emanating From People’s Faces Towards The Object Of Their Attention

By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Back in the 1970s, the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget discovered that, if you ask young children to explain the mechanics of vision as they understand them, their answers tend to reveal the exact same misconception: that the eyes emit some sort of immaterial substance into the environment and capture the sights of objects much like a projector.

Although this belief declines with age, it is still surprisingly prevalent in adults. What’s more, so-called extramission theories of vision have a long-running history dating all the way back to antiquity. The Greek philosopher Empedocles was amongst the first to suggest in the 5th century BC that our ability to see must stem from an invisible fire beaming out of our eyes to interact with our surroundings. This view was subsequently endorsed by intellectual authorities like Ptolemy and Galen.

Now, a duo of researchers behind a recent publication in PNAS think they might have found an explanation for the intuitive appeal of extramission theories. According to their paper, this worldview might just be a reflection of the mechanisms that play out within our brains when we follow other people’s gazes and track where they pay attention. This is because, to carry out this process, our brains actually conjure illusory beams of motion emanating from other’s faces — a quirk of evolution with interesting consequences.

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Seeing Red Or Feeling Blue? People Around The World Make Similar Associations Between Colours And Emotions

By Emma Young

As an English-speaker, I might “see red” with anger, go “green” with envy or, on a bad day, “feel blue”. To me, it seems natural to associate certain colours with particular emotions — but is the same true for people around the world? And if so, do we all make the same emotion/colour matchings? These questions have been investigated in a new study, published in Psychological Science, which has produced some fascinating results.

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Our Ability To Perceive Musical Beat Becomes More Refined Through Childhood

By Emma Young

If you were to play your favourite song right now, I imagine you’d have little difficulty clapping along with the beat. Our appreciation of beat allows us to clap, dance, march and sway in time with a piece of music — or just with each other. As the authors of a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General point out, these behaviours occur spontaneously across human cultures. But while moving to a beat seems effortless, it involves all kinds of perceptual processes.

The team, led by Jessica E. Nave-Blodgett at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, now report that our ability to perceive beat becomes ever more refined and also nuanced through childhood and adolescence. It may seem like an instinctive ability, but it is learned — and training does make it better.

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When We Follow Orders To Hurt Someone, We Feel Their Pain Less Than If We Hurt Them Freely

By Emma Young

It’s one of the best-known and also controversial experiments in psychology: in 1963, Stanley Milgram reported that, when instructed, many people are surprisingly willing to deliver apparently dangerous electrical shocks to others. For some researchers, this — along with follow-up studies by the team — reveals how acting “under orders” can undermine our moral compass.

Milgram’s interpretation of his findings, and the methods, too, have been criticised. However, the results have largely been replicated in experiments run in the US, Poland, and elsewhere. And in 2016, a brain-scanning study revealed that when we perform an act under coercion vs freely, our brain processes it more like a passive action rather than a voluntary one.

Now a new study, from a group that specialises in the neuroscience of empathy, takes this further: Emilie Caspar at the Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and colleagues report in NeuroImage that when we follow orders to hurt someone, there is reduced activity in brain networks involved in our ability to feel another’s pain. What’s more, this leads us to perceive pain that we inflict as being less severe. This process could, then, help to explain the dark side of obedience.

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We Find Some Word Sounds More Emotionally Arousing Than Others

By Emma Young

Of all “cross-modal” findings, the most famous is surely the bouba-kiki effect — that we tend to pair round, blobby shapes with the sound bouba and spiky shapes with kiki. However, research has not yet revealed why this effect is common among adults who speak very different languages — and even in infants as young as four.

Various theories have been put forward. One holds that levels of emotional arousal may be key — that both kiki and a spiky shape trigger relatively high levels of arousal, compared with bouba and a blob. Now a new study, reported in Psychological Science, provides compelling evidence for this idea. The researchers also take their findings further, arguing that they could have important implications for understanding the early evolution of languages.

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The Shape Of A Glass Can Influence How Much We Drink

By Matthew Warren

Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.

Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.

Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.

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Cat People, Beware — Posing With Your Pet Could Make You Appear Less Dateable

By Emily Reynolds

If you’re looking to find love on a dating app, there’s plenty you need to think about: what to include in your bio, the interests you list, and what you say you’re looking for. And in an age of rapid swiping, you’re probably going to need a knock-out profile picture too.

But don’t be too quick to assume that a picture with your pet might boost your chances — at least if you’re a male cat owner, that is. According to Lori Kogan and Shelly Volsche, writing in Animals, men holding cats in photographs are seen as less masculine, more neurotic and ultimately less dateable.

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We’re Not Very Good At Identifying Illness From Sounds of Coughs and Sneezes

By Emily Reynolds

At the moment, most of us are on red alert when it comes to sounds of illness, with sniffling in the supermarket or coughing behind us in a queue the cause of significant alarm.

And while we might like to think we’re able to tell the difference between someone clearing their throat and somebody who is genuinely unwell, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests we’re less good at identifying threats than we think.

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