Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

How Mechanical Context and Feedback Jointly Determine the Use of Mechanical Variables in Length Perception by Dynamic Touch

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

How Mechanical Context and Feedback Jointly Determine the Use of Mechanical Variables in Length Perception by Dynamic Touch

Article excerpt

Earlier studies have revealed that both mechanical context and feedback determine what mechanical invariant is used to perceive length by dynamic touch. In the present article, the authors examined how these two factors jointly constrain the informational variable that is relied upon. Participants were to judge length while wielding a rod or while holding it stationary. In two experiments, it was tested whether perceptual learning effects in the wielding condition transferred to the holding condition and vice versa. There was an asymmetry in transfer across mechanical conditions: Improvements in the holding context transferred to the wielding condition, but not vice versa. Examining the individuals' exploitation of mechanical variables, we found that, after feedback, participants changed in information usage in both mechanical conditions. For many participants, these changes were not confined to the mechanical context in which the feedback was provided. Indeed, feedback in one mechanical context brought about changes in information usage that often manifested themselves in the other mechanical condition. The authors explore the implications of these findings for research on perceptual learning in dynamic touch and the salience hypothesis.

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Over the last few decades, numerous studies of perception have aimed to reveal the factors governing the use of informational variables. Following Cutting's (1986, 1991) directed perception approach, several studies demonstrated that what informational variable participants exploit depends on the environmental context in which they have to perform the task. These effects of task ecology on information usage have now been revealed in many paradigms, among which are dynamic touch (van de Langenberg, Kingma, & Beek, 2006), visually guided interception (e.g., Tresilian, 1999), visual perception of curvature (Cutting & Millard, 1984), and visual perception of rigid flatness (Cutting, 1986). As an example, and as described below, the information that is relied upon in perceiving length by dynamic touch depends on the mechanical context (rod orientation and exploratory behavior) in which the length has to be judged (see, e.g., van de Langenberg et al., 2006).

Studies of perceptual learning, on the other hand, have demonstrated that participants can change the informational basis of their perception after feedback; that is, in the same environmental context, perceivers have been found to change the information that they exploit as a result of feedback on their performance. The Gibsons (E. J. Gibson, 1963/1991; J. J. Gibson, 1966; J. J. Gibson & E. J. Gibson, 1955) described this learning process as the education of the perceiver's attention to the right informational variable. Perceivers often start with the detection of variables that relate ambiguously to the environmental property, but move to the exploitation of specifying information after feedback; that is, they converge on the detection of informational variables that relate one-toone to the to-be-perceived property. The recent upsurge in studies of perceptual learning has demonstrated that this process occurs in many tasks: the visual perception of the pulling force of a stick figure (e.g., Michaels & de Vries, 1998), the visual perception of the relative mass of colliding balls (e.g., Jacobs, Michaels, & Runeson, 2000; Jacobs, Runeson, & Michaels, 2001; Runeson & Andersson, 2007; Runeson, Juslin, & Olsson, 2000), height and length perception by dynamic touch (Michaels, Arzamarski, Isenhower, & Jacobs, 2008; Wagman, Shockley, Riley, & Turvey, 2001; Withagen & Michaels, 2005; Withagen & van Wermeskerken, 2009), visually guided braking (Fajen, 2008; Fajen & Devaney, 2006), and visually guided catching (van Hof, van der Kamp, & Savelsbergh, 2006).

Recent studies of cultural differences in perception have also revealed a cultural component to the determination of what information is detected (see, e. …

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