Monday, May 15, 2017

Our spatial memory is driven by perceived animacy of simple shapes.

Chin points to work of van Buren and Scholl who use “wolfpack” animations of dart shapes whose points track the movement of a disc (the prey) to show that these are more readily remembered than identical animations in which the dart points are oriented away from or perpendicular to the prey. Perceiving such moving shapes as animate reinforces visual memory and has possibly been important in human evolution. The abstract of the article:
Even simple geometric shapes are seen as animate and goal-directed when they move in certain ways. Previous research has revealed a great deal about the cues that elicit such percepts, but much less about the consequences for other aspects of perception and cognition. Here we explored whether simple shapes that are perceived as animate and goal-directed are prioritized in memory. We investigated this by asking whether subjects better remember the locations of displays that are seen as animate vs. inanimate, controlling for lower-level factors. We exploited the ‘Wolfpack effect’: moving darts (or discs with ‘eyes’) that stay oriented toward a particular target are seen to be actively pursuing that target, even when they actually move randomly. (In contrast, shapes that stay oriented perpendicular to a target are correctly perceived to be drifting randomly.) Subjects played a ‘matching game’ – clicking on pairs of panels to reveal animations with moving shapes. Across four experiments, the locations of Wolfpack animations (compared to control animations equated on lower-level visual factors) were better remembered, in terms of more efficient matching. Thus perceiving animacy influences subsequent visual memory, perhaps due to the adaptive significance of such stimuli.

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