Actual and illusory differences in constant speed influence the perception of animacy similarly
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The ability to perceive objects as alive is the first step in social cognition. When the status of an object is ambiguous--if far away or fast moving--animacy is best perceived using motion cues. Previous studies have revealed that acceleration is a robust cue to animacy. The current study tests the prediction that, in the absence of acceleration, an object traveling at a relatively faster constant speed is more likely to be perceived as animate. Experiment 1 confirmed this hypothesis. Experiment 2 investigated the robustness of this finding by employing an illusory speed difference: Participants viewed dots moving at the same speed across apparently smaller and apparently larger central circles that were actually equally sized. Two thirds of participants perceived a dot traveling across an apparently larger circle to be faster or alive. Experiment 3 showed that participants' responses were not due to response bias. Together, these results suggest that our perceptions of animacy are influenced by constant speed differences, and that the perceptual association of speed and animacy is influenced by actual and illusory speed differences similarly.
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