Don't underestimate your mind's eye

Don’t underestimate your mind’s eye
"We're showing that there's more interplay between memory and perception than previously has been assumed," said lead author Laura Cacciamani.

(Medical Xpress)—Take a look around, and what do you see? Much more than you think you do, thanks to your finely tuned mind's eye, which processes images without your even knowing.

A University of Arizona study has found that objects in our of which we are not consciously aware still may influence our decisions. The findings refute traditional ideas about and cognition, and they could shed light on why we sometimes make decisions—stepping into a street, choosing not to merge into a traffic lane—without really knowing why.

Laura Cacciamani, who recently earned her doctorate in psychology with a minor in neuroscience, has found supporting evidence. Cacciamani's is the lead author on a co-authored study, published online in the journal Attention, Perception and Psychophysics, shows that the brain's subconscious processing has an impact on behavior and decision-making.

This seems to make evolutionary sense, Cacciamani said. Early humans would have required keen awareness of their surroundings on a subliminal level in order to survive.

"Your brain is always monitoring for meaning in the world, to be aware of your general surroundings and potential predators," Cacciamani said. "You can be focused on a task, but your brain is assessing the meaning of everything around you – even objects that you're not consciously perceiving."

The study builds on the findings of earlier research by Jay Sanguinetti, who also was a doctoral candidate in the UA Department of Psychology. Both studies go against conventional wisdom among vision scientists.

Don’t underestimate your mind’s eye
Can you see it? Cacciamani showed to participants in her study images of dark silhouettes that contained the outlines of recognizable objects in the space surrounding the silhouette, called the ground side of the silhouette. Here, two halves of a leaf appear outside the black silhouette. Credit: Laura Cacciamani

"According to the traditional view, the brain accesses the meaning – or the memory – of an after you perceive it," Cacciamani said. "Against this view, we have now shown that the meaning of an object can be accessed before conscious perception.

"We're showing that there's more interplay between memory and perception than previously has been assumed," she said.

Cacciamani asked in her study to classify nouns that appeared on a computer screen as naming a natural object or artificial object by pressing one of two buttons labeled "natural" or "artificial." For example, the word "leaf" indicates an object found in nature, while "anchor" indicates a man-made or artificial object.

But before each word appeared on the screen, the computer flashed a black silhouette that – unknown to participants – had portions of natural or artificial objects suggested along the white outside regions (called the "ground" regions) of the image. Participants were not told to look for anything in the silhouettes, and they were flashed so quickly – 50 milliseconds – that it would have been difficult to notice the objects in the ground regions even if someone knew what to look for. Participants never were aware that the silhouette's grounds suggested recognizable objects.

Cacciamani measured how well study participants performed at categorizing the words as natural or artificial by recording speed and accuracy.

"We found that participants performed better on the natural/artificial word task when that word followed a silhouette whose ground contained an object of the same rather than a different category," Cacciamani said.

This indicates that the brain accessed the meaning of the objects in the silhouette's grounds even though didn't know the objects were there, she said.

"Every day our visual systems are bombarded with more information than we can consciously be aware of," Cacciamani said. "We're showing that your might still be accessing information without your conscious awareness, and that could influence your behavior."

Explore further

Study: Your brain sees things you don't

Citation: Don't underestimate your mind's eye (2014, September 9) retrieved 20 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 09, 2014
"According to the traditional view, the brain accesses the meaning – or the memory – of an object after you perceive it," Cacciamani said.

That "traditional view" eliminates unconsciousness. And dreams.
Against what literature is this research directed?

Sep 09, 2014
The Mind's Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences

Hormone-organized and hormone-activated responses to visual input are classically conditioned via the epigenetic effects of food odors and pheromones in vertebrates and invertebrates.

The pseudoscientific nonsense that attempts to link visual input directly to unconscious affects on behavior does so by eliminating the link from the effects of odor on hormones to their affect on behavior, which links the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the organized genomes of species from microbes to man via RNA-mediated events, not via evolutionary events.

No evolutionary events have been described. If any ever are, they may link mutations and sexual selection to the evolution of sexual preferences for the visual appeal of a potential mate. But there is no model for that. The only model of biologically-based cause and effect is cell type differentiation.

Sep 10, 2014
JVK - spammer James V Kohl, selling the same pheromone perfume scam for 15 years. What an impoverished mind.

Sep 10, 2014
"The Mind's Eyes: Human pheromones, neuroscience, and male sexual preferences" is an award-winning book chapter, concurrently published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality.

See also, my comments at:

Sep 10, 2014

"The result of this synergy is (1) a liver enzyme that oxidizes trimethylamine to (2) an odor that causes (3) species-specific behaviors. Thus, the complex systems that biology required to get from nutrient acquisition and nutrient metabolism to species-specific odor-controlled behavior is exemplified by adaptive evolution of an attractive odor to mice that repels rats (see for review Li et al., 2013).

The mouse odor also repels humans. High excretion rates of trimethylamine-associated odor in humans cause 'fish odor syndrome'. The aversive body odor has been attributed to a mutation (Dolphin, Janmohamed, Smith, Shephard, & Phillips, 1997). This attribution is not consistent with the portrayal of synergy in the mouse model, which enables both the production of the odor and the response to the odor.

This synergy requires at least two things to happen simultaneously..."

animah probably used a product that made him smell more like a fish

Sep 14, 2014
@JVK The pseudoscientific nonsense that attempts to link visual input directly to unconscious affects on behavior does so by eliminating the link from the effects of odor on hormones to their affect on behavior
'Afffect' is a verb, not a noun. Twice in one sentence. Nice job.

Did you know Jesus means 'son of Isis' and Isis is the mother of Horus, the sungod? So you're not worshiping the 'son of gawd' but the sun itself. No different at all from the people your kind murdered over your 'superior religion'

Sep 14, 2014
Epigenetic effects on hormones lead to the affects of hormones on behavior.

I learned the proper use of effect and affect in the early 90's. See for a recent example via the need for a correction:http://www.pnas.o...1.2.full]http://www.pnas.o...1.2.full[/url]

Correction for McEwen, Brain on stress: How the social environment gets under the skin
COLLOQUIUM Correction for "Brain on stress: How the social environment gets under the skin," by Bruce S. McEwen, which appeared in supplement 2, October 16, 2012, of Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (109:17180–17185; first published October 8, 2012; 10.1073/pnas.1121254109).

The authors note that on page 17184, right column, first paragraph, line 4, "effect" should instead appear as "affect."


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more