Motivated Visual Perception: How We See What We Want To See
Balcetis, Emily E.
In 2001, a U.S. nuclear submarine surfaced underneath a Japanese fishing vessel, causing it to sink-9 died. In 1999, 41 bullets fired by 4 New York police officers hit and killed Amidou Diallo, who pulled from his pocket a wallet rather than what the police thought was a gun. In both tragedies, one might ask how these central actors could have failed to see what was plainly visible. With this work, I ask how perceptual systems represent the surrounding world if not in a veridical manner. I propose that the perceptual representations of which perceivers are consciously aware are colored by nonconscious motivational forces. Motivations, including wishes, dissonance reduction, and visceral needs, bias visual perception. Three streams of research examined the ways in which motivations constrain perceptual processing. The first stream demonstrated that people's wishes biased the resolution of visual ambiguity. In 5 studies, participants shown an ambiguous visual figure reported seeing the desired interpretation. This finding was affirmed by unobtrusive and implicit measures of perception including eyetracking, lexical decision response times, and experimental manipulations. In the second stream, I explored whether the motivation to reduce cognitive dissonance biased perception and assisted in the regulation of psychological states. In 2 studies, participants performed an aversive task under high or low choice conditions. Participants saw components of their environment in less extreme ways in order to reduce dissonance. Those experiencing high choice perceived distances to travel as shorter and slopes to climb as shallower. In the third stream, 5 studies showed that desires such as hunger, thirst, and general preferences led to a narrowed focus of attention on a desired object. Narrowly focusing attention reduced estimates of distance. Participants saw desired objects as closer than less desired objects. I end by discussing the implications for marketing, self-screening in early cancer detection and relationship satisfaction among other applied domains. This work explores the limits of motivations, testing whether they cross the boundary separating how people think about their world and how they see it.
Motivation; Visual Perception; Motivated Reasoning; Top-Down; Wishful Thinking; Cognitive Dissonance
dissertation or thesis