Action Goals Influence Action-Specific Perception

By Cañal-Bruland, Rouwen; van der Kamp, John | Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, December 2009 | Go to article overview
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Action Goals Influence Action-Specific Perception


Cañal-Bruland, Rouwen, van der Kamp, John, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review


We examined the processes that mediate the emergence of action-specific influences on perception that have recently been reported for baseball batting and golf putting (Witt, Linkenauger, Bakdash, & Proffitt, 2008; Witt & Proffitt, 2005). To this end, we used a Schokokusswurfmaschine: Children threw a ball at a target, which, if hit successfully, launched a ball that the children then had to catch. In two experiments, children performed either a throwing-and-catching task or a throwing-only task, in which no ball was launched. After each task, the size of the target or of the ball was estimated. Results indicate that action-specific influences on perceived size occur for objects that are related to the end goal of the action, but not for objects that are related to intermediate action goals. These results suggest that action-specific influences on perception are contingent upon the primary action goals to be achieved.

Recently, Witt and colleagues (Witt, Linkenauger, Bakdash, & Proffitt, 2008; Witt & Proffitt, 2005) provided empirical evidence in support of frequently reported anecdotes that baseball batters see the ball as being bigger than usual when hitting well, and golfers judge the hole to be bigger on successful days. More specifically, Witt and Proffitt (2005) presented softball players who had just finished their game with a poster showing eight circles and asked them to choose the circle that they thought best matched the size of a softball. They found that size of chosen circles was positively correlated with the players' batting average. That is, players with higher batting scores tended to select larger circles, whereas their less successful counterparts judged the ball to be smaller. Witt et al. (2008) reported a similar finding among golf players, indicating that golfers who putted well estimated the hole to be bigger than did golfers who putted less successfully. Witt and Proffitt concluded that perception of the environment is not entirely determined by optical information, but is also influenced by nonvisual performance-related factors (e.g., Proffitt, 2006). This is referred to as actionspecific influence on perception (Witt & Proffitt, 2008).

The processes that mediate the emergence of actionspecific influence on perception need further clarification. We propose that, in one such process, objects that are intimately linked to the goal of an action get perceptually accentuated. This proposal is derived from the functional perception theory, which holds that the intention (or motivation) to achieve a goal affects the perception of the objects relevant to the attainment of that goal (Bruner, 1957; Bruner & Postman, 1949). Bruner and colleagues reasoned that, when a person is motivated to act on a goal object, the relevant object becomes perceptually accentuated (e.g., is perceived as being bigger), so that it stands out among other environmental stimuli. Although the early evidence for the functional perception theory has been discredited by contradictory findings and methodological weaknesses (e.g., Klein, Schlesinger, & Meister, 1951), recent empirical and theoretical work on embodied cognition is consistent with one of its main notions-namely, that visual perception is intrinsically linked with action intentions (e.g., Bekkering & Neggers, 2002; Proffitt, 2006). For example, Veltkamp, Aarts, and Custers (2008) have recently shown that observers who are deprived of fluid and are (subconsciously) primed to drink perceive a glass of water to be bigger than it actually is. However, there was no such effect when participants were not primed to drink. Veltkamp et al. concluded that the intention to reach a goal creates a state of readiness for action that "impinges on basic perceptual processes" (p. 723). It follows that action-specific influences on perception are contingent upon the action goals to be achieved. In softball batting, the ball is the object that is intrinsically related to the action goal, and, in line with predictions from the perceptual accentuation hypothesis, its perception is affected (Witt & Proffitt, 2005).

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