The Automaticity of Perceiving Animacy

Below are demonstrations of the various conditions and phenomena reported in the following paper:

van Buren, B., Uddenberg, S., & Scholl, B. J. (2016). The automaticity of perceiving animacy: Goal-directed motion in simple shapes influences visuomotor behavior even when task-irrelevant. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 23, 797-802. PDF

Here we explored how perceiving animacy may influence behavior. We developed a novel 'foraging' task in which subjects used their cursor to collect food dots which appeared sequentially at random locations. When several darts turned to point toward the cursor, subjects moved more slowly. The darts were irrelevant to the task, but subjects could not resist their influence. We conclude that animacy is computed automatically.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Stefan Uddenberg.

Experiment Conditions

Darts directed at subject's cursor

Condition 1: Directed at Cursor

On Directed at Cursor trials, the task-irrelevant darts moved randomly, but always pointed toward the subject's cursor. Foraging performance was impaired in this condition, despite the fact that the darts were completely task-irrelevant!

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Darts perpendicular to subject's cursor

Condition 2: Perpendicular to Cursor

On Perpendicular to Cursor trials, the task-irrelevant darts were instead always oriented orthogonally to the subject's cursor. This produced no impression of animacy, and correspondingly, no impairment of foraging performance. In other words, the impairment in Directed at Cursor trials is not simply due to the correlated rotary motion of the darts (which was perfectly equated here).

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Darts directed at computer

Condition 3: Directed at Computer

On Directed at Computer trials, the task-irrelevant darts pointed toward a separate (computer-controlled) disc. Foraging times were again unimpaired -- thus ensuring that the impairment in Directed at Cursor trials reflects a feeling of being personally menaced.

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Demos & Data

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