Monday, August 19, 2019

What we see is influenced by what we can do about it

Djebbara et al. do experiments that resolve an ancient debate on the relationship between cognition, movement, and environment, showing that potential actions afforded by an architectural environment influence perception. We perceive the world not as an observer-independent reality but in the mold of potential actions, shaped by the current needs and other personal attributes of the actor–perceiver. I pass on their significance and abstract statements, and then a clip from a description of the work by Gepshtein and Snider.

Using electroencephalography and virtual reality, our research provides a unique perspective on the centuries-old open-ended debate in cognitive neuroscience and philosophy on the relationship among cognition, movement, and environment. Our results indicate that cortical potentials vary as a function of bodily affordances reflected by the physical environment. First, the results imply that cognition is inherently related to the potential movement of the body; thus, we posit that action is interrelated with perception, actively influencing the perceivable environment. Second, these results indicate that moving in space is to continuously construct a prediction of a world of affordances, suggesting that architects take up the continuity of spaces, given that the unfolding of bodily movement alters perception and experience.
Anticipating meaningful actions in the environment is an essential function of the brain. Such predictive mechanisms originate from the motor system and allow for inferring actions from environmental affordances, and the potential to act within a specific environment. Using architecture, we provide a unique perspective on the ongoing debate in cognitive neuroscience and philosophy on whether cognition depends on movement or is decoupled from our physical structure. To investigate cognitive processes associated with architectural affordances, we used a mobile brain/body imaging approach recording brain activity synchronized to head-mounted displays. Participants perceived and acted on virtual transitions ranging from nonpassable to easily passable. We found that early sensory brain activity, on revealing the environment and before actual movement, differed as a function of affordances. In addition, movement through transitions was preceded by a motor-related negative component that also depended on affordances. Our results suggest that potential actions afforded by an environment influence perception.
And, the clip from the review by Gepshtein and Snider:
Djebbara et al. had human participants walking freely while immersed in a virtual environment. A wearable “brain/body imaging setup” included a 64-channel electroencephalographic (EEG) cap that allowed researchers to record the participants’ electrical activity of the brain. The experiment consisted of a series of trials in which participants confronted simulated doors of different widths: Narrow (0.2 m wide), medium (1 m), and wide (1.5 m). At the onset of every trial, the participant was shown 1 of the 3 doors for several seconds. Then the wall framing the door changed its color: To green, prompting the person to pass through the door (the Go condition), or to red, indicating that the person should not approach the door (NoGo). A key result from the analysis of the participants’ brain activity came from the temporal window that just followed the Go/NoGo signal. On average, the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information functioned differently in the Go and NoGo conditions. In the Go condition, brain activity depended significantly on whether the door was passable or not, but in the NoGo condition, no such difference was found.
The authors explain this result by evoking the familiar concept of affordance, introduced by the influential American psychologist James J. Gibson in 1966. Gibson coined the term “affordance” to designate action opportunities offered by objects, trying to find a substitute to the term “value” which he worried would carry “an old burden of philosophical meaning”

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