My, what big teeth you have! Threatening objects appear closer
When we're faced with things that seem threatening, whether it's a hairy spider or an angry mob, our goal is usually to get as far away as we can. Now, new research suggests that our visual perception may actually be biased to help motivate us to get out of harm's way.
When we're faced with a threat our bodies respond in ways that engage our fight-or-flight response and enable us to act quickly: Our heart rate and blood pressure ramp up, and we produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. But research suggests that the body may also demonstrate its preparedness through certain perceptual biases.
In accordance with the threat-signal hypothesis, psychological scientist Emily Balcetis of New York University and colleagues reasoned that if we need to be increasingly prepared to act as a threat gets closer, then we're best served by misperceiving objects as being closer to us the more threatening they are.
Importantly, this hypothesis suggests that we should misperceive threatening objects as closer than nonthreatening objects that evoke equally strong and negative responses, such as disgust.
The researchers tested this hypothesis in two studies reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
In the first study, Balcetis and colleagues recruited 101 college students to participate in a study supposedly about attitudes toward "island life." After entering the room, the students stood 156 inches away from a live tarantula that was placed on a tray on a table. The students reported how threatened and disgusted they felt at that moment and estimated the distance to the tarantula.
The results showed that the more threatened participants felt, the closer they estimated the tarantula to be. But a different effect emerged when considering the effect of disgust. The more disgusted they felt, the further away they estimated the tarantula to be.
To pinpoint the specific effect of threat, the researchers conducted a second study in which they experimentally manipulated participants' experiences of threat and disgust and compared the effects to a case when they felt no emotions.
They recruited 48 female college students to participate in a study on "impressions." When they arrived, the participants met a male student they had never seen before (the male student was actually in on the experiment).
Each participant was randomly assigned to watch one of three videos. Participants in the threat condition watched a video in which the male student talked about his love of guns, how he hunted as a hobby, and how he experienced feelings of pent-up aggression.
Participants in the disgust condition watched a video in which the same male student talked about having done disgusting things to customers' orders while working in a fast food restaurant, including urinating in customers' sodas and spitting in their food.
Finally, participants in the neutral condition watched a video in which the male student talked about the classes he was taking next semester in a neutral manner.
After watching the video, the participants were brought back into the room with the male student, who sat 132 inches away from them. To get a measure of their physiological arousal, the researchers recorded each participant's heart rate immediately before the interaction. The participants rated how "threatening" and how "disgusting" they felt the male student was at that moment. They also estimated how many inches separated them from the male student.
The results showed that the female students who watched the threatening video estimated that the male student was closer (average 55.0 cm) than the students who watched either the disgusting (average 78.4 cm) or the neutral video (average 73.9 cm). This relationship held even after the participants' heart rate was taken into account.
In both studies, feelings of threat—but not disgust—were related to participants' estimates of distance, providing further evidence in support of the threat-signal hypothesis.
"Although fear and disgust are both negative and intense emotions, they differ in the amount of immediate action they call for," the researchers explain. "Both fear and disgust may be associated with avoidance tendencies, but fear typically necessitates active mobilization to withdraw from or dispel potential threats, whereas disgust does not."
This research suggests that our perception can be biased in ways that may help to promote functional action – in this case, getting away from sources of threat. But an important question remains: Does perceiving objects as physically closer actually make us quicker to act?
Addressing questions like these will help paint a clearer picture of how our experiences of emotion can guide action by shaping how we perceive the environment around us.
Provided by Association for Psychological Science
- Feeling disgust may enhance our ability to detect impurities Dec 06, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Older adults control emotions more easily than young adults Mar 04, 2009 | not rated yet | 0
- Sexual arousal may decrease natural disgust response Sep 12, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Cause and affect: Emotions can be unconsciously and subliminally evoked, study shows Apr 28, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Tarantulas help parse fear in the human brain Nov 09, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
15 hours ago As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
Ratio of Hydrogen of Oxygen in Dessicated Animal Protein
May 13, 2013 As an experiment, for the past few months I've been consuming at least one portion of Jell-O or unflavored Knox gelatin per day. I'm 64, in very...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
A new study shows there is a gender gap when it comes to behavior and self-control in American young children – one that does not appear to exist in children in Asia.
Psychology & Psychiatry 5 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Until now, little was scientifically known about the human potential to cultivate compassion—the emotional state of caring for people who are suffering in a way that motivates altruistic behavior.
Psychology & Psychiatry 6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 2 |
What effect does a father's depression have on his young son or daughter? When fathers report a high level of emotional intimacy in their marriage, their children benefit, said a University of Illinois study.
Psychology & Psychiatry 7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Preschoolers universally recognize that one's choices are not always free – that our decisions may be constrained by social obligations to be nice to others or follow rules set by parents ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 14 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(Medical Xpress)—Do ethicists engage in better moral behavior than other professors? The answer is no. Nor are they more likely than nonethicists to act according to values they espouse, according to researchers from the ...
Psychology & Psychiatry 14 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0
Swiss scientists reveal the mechanism responsible for aging hidden deep within mitochondria—and dramatically slow it down in worms by administering antibiotics to the young.
9 hours ago | 4.8 / 5 (5) | 0 |
Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London have led the largest sequencing study of human disease to date, investigating the genetic basis of six autoimmune diseases.
9 hours ago | 4 / 5 (1) | 0 |
(HealthDay)—Migraines and depression can each cause a great deal of suffering, but new research indicates the combination of the two may be linked to something else entirely—a smaller brain.
6 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
A new approach for immunizing against influenza elicited a more potent immune response and broader protection than the currently licensed seasonal influenza vaccines when tested in mice and ferrets. The vaccine ...
7 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |
In a series of lab experiments designed to unravel the workings of a key enzyme widely considered a possible trigger of rheumatoid arthritis, researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that in the most severe ...
8 hours ago | 5 / 5 (1) | 0 |
Researchers have developed a new drug delivery system that allows inhalation of chemotherapeutic drugs to help treat lung cancer, and in laboratory and animal tests it appears to reduce the systemic damage ...
8 hours ago | not rated yet | 0 |