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References Laursen, L. (2008). With a Little Help. Scientific American Mind, 19(5), 12. <!–Additional Information: Persistent link to this record (Permalink): url= End of citation–>

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With a Little Help PERCEPTION Illusions of Steepness and Height When we judge vertical distances, environmental cues trick our brain When deciding whether to climb a hill, we try to take into account both how it rises and how steep the ascent will be. Chances are good, however, that our estimates of both these variables will be wrong. Two recent studies show how our perception of vertical distances is skewed — perhaps for good evolutionary reasons.

The walk to and from school can’t be uphill both ways, but going it alone might make it seem that way. When judging the steepness of a hill, people overestimated its angle more when alone than when they were accompanied by — or even thinking about — a friend, reports an international group of researchers led by Simone Schnall of University of Plymouth in England. The longer the volunteers had been friends with their companions, the less steep the hill seemed.

The authors hypothesize that psychosocial resources, such as having a trusted friend nearby, help people to see challenges in their surroundings as easier to navigate. In similar studies, subjects who were fatigued, out of shape or wearing a heavy backpack perceived hills as steeper and distances as longer than they really were.

Such built-in perceptual illusions may provide an evolutionary advantage, says Emily Balcetis of Ohio University, who was not involved with the study. Exaggerating a challenge’s difficulty, she explains, “might better help you prepare to encounter it.”



~~~~~~~~ By Lucas Laursen



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