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New psychology research explores boundary extension

Friday, September 13, 2013 - 9:16am

How do we change or mis-remember what we see with our own eyes? New research from the department of psychology seeks to unpack this intriguing process:

In just a few short seconds, the human brain helps most people extend the scene beyond what is actually seen.

Scientists at the University of Delaware discovered this concept in 1989 when they showed study participants real photographs of 20 scenes for 15 seconds and then had participants draw a picture of what they'd viewed. Ninety-five percent of the drawings included information that wasn't physically present but would have been just outside the camera's field of view.

This phenomenon has been consistently demonstrated since that time, but researchers have not been able to explain why it occurs.

James Brown, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology, and graduate students Benjamin McDunn and Aisha Siddiqui decided to study whether the use of an abstract image—instead of a photograph—would produce different results.

Great stuff. Like our vision, sometimes insights into our perception lay at the boundaries of how just much we're willing to fill in the picture - even when the actual details are right before us. Do we see more what we choose to see? Or think (or believe) what we want to think? Great social science gets us to question ourselves and our perceptions. No better example of that than right here.

Image: Diagram from the work of René Descartes (1596-1650), via Wikimedia Commons.

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