Author(s): Firestone C, Scholl BJ
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Abstract A recent surge of research has revived the notion that higher-level cognitive states such as beliefs, desires, and categorical knowledge can directly change what we see. The force of such claims, however, has been undercut by an absence of visually apparent demonstrations of the form so often appealed to in vision science: such effects may be revealed by statistical analyses of observers' responses, but you cannot literally experience the alleged top-down effects yourself. A singular exception is an influential report that racial categorization alters the perceived lightness of faces, a claim that was bolstered by a striking visual demonstration that Black faces appear darker than White faces, even when matched for mean luminance. Here, we show that this visually compelling difference is explicable in terms of purely low-level factors. Observers who viewed heavily blurred versions of the original Black and White faces still judged the Black face to be darker and the White face to be lighter even when these observers could not perceive the races of the faces, and even when they explicitly judged the faces to be of the same race. We conclude that the best subjectively appreciable evidence for top-down influences on perception does not reflect a genuinely top-down effect after all: instead, such effects arise from more familiar (if subtle) bottom-up factors within visual processing.
This article was published in Psychon Bull Rev
and referenced in Clinical and Experimental Psychology