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Wishful Seeing[edit]

Wishful seeing is the phenomenon in which a person's internal state influences their visual perception. People have the tendency to believe that they perceive the world for what it is, but research suggests otherwise. Currently, there are two main types of wishful seeing based on where wishful seeing occurs--in categorization of objects or in representations of an environment.[1]


Discuss "New Look" theorists.

Categorization and Processing[edit]

Wishful seeing has been observed to occur in early stages of categorization. Research using ambiguous figures and binocular rivalry exhibit this tendency.[2] Perception is influenced by both top-down and bottom-up processing. In visual processing, bottom-up processing is a rigid route compared to flexible top-down processing.[3] Within bottom-up processing, the stimuli are recognized by fixation points, proximity and focal areas to build objects, while top-down processing is more context sensitive. This effect can be observed via priming as well as with emotional states.[4] The traditional hierarchical models of information processing describe early visual processing as a one way street: early visual processing goes into conceptual systems, but conceptual systems do not affect visual processes.[5] Currently, research rejects this model and suggests conceptual information can penetrate early visual processing rather than just biasing the perceptual systems. This occurrence is called conceptual or cognitive penetrability. Research on conceptual penetrability utilize stimuli of conceptual-category pairs and measure the reaction time to determine if the category effect influenced visual processing,[4] The category effect is the difference in reaction times within the pairs such as Bb to Bp. To test conceptual penetrability, there were simultaneous and sequential judgments of pairs. The reaction times decreased as the stimulus onset asynchrony increased, supporting categories affect visual representations and conceptual penetrability. Research with richer stimuli such as figures of cats and dogs allow for greater perceptual variability and analysis of stimulus typicality (cats and dogs were arranged in various positions, some more or less typical for recognition). Differentiating the pictures took longer when they were within the same category (doga-dogb) compared between categories (dog-cat) supporting category knowledge influences categorization. Therefore, visual processing measured by physical differential judgments is affected by non-visual processing supporting conceptual penetrability.[4]

Neural Correlates of Top-down Processing[edit]

Mechanisms of wishful seeing in early processing are still uncertain, but magnocellular (M) and parvocellular (P) pathways, that feed into the orbitofrontal cortex, play important roles in top-down processes that are susceptible to cognitive penetrability.[4] Magnocellular processing biased stimuli deferentially activates the orbitofrontal cortex; fast Magnocellular projections link early visual and inferotemporal object recognition and work with the orbitofrontal cortex by helping generate early object predictions based on perceptual sets.[5] Stimuli were M-biased with low-luminance, achromatic line drawings or P-biased with isoluminate, chromatic line drawings and participants were asked if the drawing was larger or smaller than a shoebox.[5] Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to monitor brain activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and ventrotemporal regions.[5] Magnocellular neurons play a vital role in low-resolution object recognition as the neurons aid in quickly triggering top-down processes that provide initial guesses that lead to faster object recognition.[5]

Representations of Environment[edit]

Another common area in which wishful seeing can be observed is through environmental representations.[6] Many studies have supported that desire or motivations effect estimates of size, distance, speed, length and slope of environment or target. For example, people will perceive desired objects as closer.[6] Wishful seeing also effects athlete's perception of balls and other equipment.[7] For example, softball players who see the ball as bigger hit better and tennis players who return better see the net as lower and the ball as moving slower.[7] Distance and slope perception is effected by energy levels; subjects with a heavier load see hills as steeper and distances as farther, targets that are placed uphill compared to flat ground seem farther away, people who are in shape perceive hills as shallower and fatigued runners see hills as steeper.[6]

Distance perception is also effected by cognitive dissonance.[6] Cognitive dissonance was manipulated by high choice groups which were lead to believe they selected wearing a Carmen Miranda outfit to walk across campus versus a low choice group which was told they had to wear the outfit. To reduce cognitive dissonance in high choice groups the subjects changed their attitude to match the situation. Thus, they perceived their environment in a less extreme way (shorter distance) than low choice groups.[8] Similar results followed with a perception of slope test, in which participants were in high and low choice groups to push themselves up a slope on skateboard with only their arms. Again, the high choice group perceived the slope as shallower than the low choice in order to reduce cognitive dissonance. Both of these studies suggest that intraphysic motives play a role in perception of environments in order to encourage the perceiver to engage in behaviors that lead them either to acquire a desired object or be able to complete a desired task.[8]

Neural Correlates[edit]

I know I want to discuss a little bit on the neural correlates involved in top-down processing and object recognition in a source by Kveraga, Boshyan and Bar(2007) if nobody else has the same article.

Reverse wishful thinking and seeing[edit]

Despite the fact people typically align their logic or representations to their desires, in some cases wishful thinking/seeing may reverse. This process occurs when threat increases.[6] The Ebbinghaus illusion has been used to measure reverse wishful seeing, with participants observing negative flanker targets underestimated less than positive or neutral targets.[9] Feelings of fear also lead to perception of the feared object as closer just as prior research suggests that desired objects are perceived as closer.[10] Furthermore, some people are less inclined to wishful thinking/seeing based on their emotional states or personality.[6]


  1. ^ Balcetis, Emily (2013). "Wishful Seeing: How preferences shape visual perception". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 22 (1): 33–37. doi:10.1177/0963721412463693.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  2. ^ Balceltis, Emily (2006). "See what you want to see: The impact of motivational states on visual perception". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 91: 612–625.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  3. ^ Robinson-Riegler, Bridget Robinson-Riegler, Gregory (2011). Cognitive psychology : applying the science of the mind (3rd ed. ed.). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon. pp. 46–50. ISBN 9780205033645. 
  4. ^ a b c d Lupyan, G. (23 March 2010). "Conceptual Penetration of Visual Processing". Psychological Science. 21 (5): 682–691. doi:10.1177/0956797610366099.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  5. ^ a b c d e Kveraga, Kestutis (28 November 2007). "Magnocellular Projections as the Trigger of Top-Down Facilitation in Recognition". The Journal of Neuroscience. 27 (48): 13232–13240.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  6. ^ a b c d e f Dunning, D. (22 January 2013). "Wishful Seeing: How Preferences Shape Visual Perception". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 22 (1): 33–37. doi:10.1177/0963721412463693.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  7. ^ a b Witt, J. K. (24 May 2011). "Action's Effect on Perception". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 20 (3): 201–206. doi:10.1177/0963721411408770. 
  8. ^ a b Balcetis, Emily (2007). "Cognitive Dissonance and the Perception of Natural Environments". Psychological Science. 18 (10): 917–921.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  9. ^ Ulzen, Niek R. (5 April 2007). "Affective stimulus properties influence size perception and the Ebbinghaus illusion". Psychological Research. 72 (3): 304–310. doi:10.1007/s00426-007-0114-6.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);
  10. ^ Cole, S. (15 November 2012). "Affective Signals of Threat Increase Perceived Proximity". Psychological Science. 24 (1): 34–40. doi:10.1177/0956797612446953.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help);