Animacy & Action

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 whether and how perceiving animacy automatically influences visuomotor behavior. We developed a novel “foraging” task in which subjects used their cursor to collect food dots which appeared sequentially at random locations in the display. Several darts moved haphazardly in the background, and subjects were instructed to ignore these and to focus on just collecting the dots as quickly as possible. Despite these instructions, subjects performed this task more slowly and tentatively when the background featured animate-looking "Wolfpack" displays, in which the darts remained oriented continuously toward their cursor. (Demos of the different conditions in this experiment, and a plot of subjects' foraging times, can be viewed in the interactive plot below.) This result illustrates the automaticity and power of perceived animacy - no matter how hard we try, we can’t help but notice and react to other living things.

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 was slowed in this condition, despite the fact that the darts were completely task-irrelevant!

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 slowing in subjects' performance of the foraging task. In other words, the impairment in Directed at Cursor trials was not simply due to the correlated rotary motion of the darts (which was perfectly equated here).

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.

Demos & Data

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Condition 1: Directed at Cursor

Condition 2: Perpendicular to Cursor

Condition 3: Directed at Computer