The Human Bias

in Article, Opinion
April 10th, 2014

Philosophers since the time of Plato have considered the extent to which we can truly perceive the physical world, or the so called ‘mind independent’ universe. Modern science has given us further insight into the question, through experiments designed to understand the way in which our brain receives and manipulates sensory information. While it has been known for some time that human perception is subject to various priming effects and spatiotemporal biases, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered that visual perception is also influenced by something called the ‘continuity field.’

To put it simply, the continuity field is what allows us to view our surrounding environment as a continuous perception. In his recent article in Nature Neuroscience, David Whitney and his colleagues have shown that our perception of the orientation of a certain object in our visual field is actually strongly biased towards the orientation of that object 10 seconds prior. This means that our brain ‘smoothes out’ small changes in the physical world so that we perceive a continuous image. Without the influence of this continuity field, we would be hypersensitive to the smallest changes in our visual field, and presumably have trouble determining which changes in our surroundings would be most relevant to our immediate needs.

So our brain sacrifices accuracy for a stable picture – why is this important? Beyond every pop psychology notion that you can’t believe everything you see, Whitney’s study represents an effort to move past an anthropomorphic bias. All good science since Aristotle has been empirical, meaning that its findings have relied on human perception for their accuracy. Now as we are coming to find that our perceptions aren’t necessarily an accurate representation of the physical world, the term empirical may not carry the same weight it used to. That is why it is necessary that we understand how our perceptual biases might affect how we obtain and interpret data from experiments, so that as scientists we can be sure that our picture of the world is a correct one.

-Sid Vashi


Serial dependence in visual perception -Nature Neuroscience


Scientists pinpoint how we miss subtle visual changes, and why it keeps us sane -News Center

How Does the Brain Create a “Continuity Field” of Vision? -Psychology Today

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