Motivation and emotion

A central assumption of the constructivist approach is that perception is not determined entirely by external stimuli. As a result, it is assumed that current motivational and emotional states may influence people's perceptual hypotheses and thus their visual perception. Consider, for example, a study by Schafer and Murphy (1943). They prepared drawings consisting of an irregular line drawn vertically through a circle so that either half of the circle could be seen as the profile of a face (Figure 3.1). During initial training, each face was presented separately. One face in each pair was associated with financial reward, whereas the other face was associated with financial punishment. When the original combined drawings were then presented briefly, participants were much more likely to report perceiving the previously rewarded face than the previously punished one. Smith and Hochberg (1954) found in a similar study that delivering a shock when one of the two profile faces was presented decreased its tendency to be perceived later.

Bruner and Goodman (1947) studied motivational factors by asking rich and poor children to estimate the sizes of coins. The poor children over-estimated the size of every coin more than did the rich children. Although this finding may reflect the greater value of money to poor children, a simpler explanation is that the rich children had more familiarity with coins, and so were more accurate in their size estimates. Ashley, Harper, and Runyon (1951) introduced an ingenious modification to the experimental design used by Bruner and Goodman (1947). They hypnotised adult participants into believing they were rich or poor, and found that the size estimates of coins were consistently larger when the participants were in the "poor"

Several other studies seem to show effects of motivation and emotion on perception. However, it is important to distinguish between effects on perception and on response. For example, it is well established from work on operant conditioning by Skinner and others that reward and punishment both influence the likelihood of making any given response. Thus, it is possible that reward and punishment in the study by Schafer and Murphy (1943) affected participants' responses without necessarily affecting actual visual perception.

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