Thursday 31 August 2017

Expectations and the Size-Weight Illusion

The size-weight illusion (SWI) occurs when people are asked to judge the weights of two different sized but identically weighted objects. The smaller object is judged to be heavier. There are a variety of explanations for this illusion (see Buckingham, 2014 for a review). I'm going to be reviewing some papers on it as I develop some experiments connected to my throwing research.

One set of explanations is 'bottom up', i.e. perceptual. Amazeen & Turvey, 1996 suggested that people do not perceive weight but inertia (this is the dynamic touch hypothesis about the inertia tensor) and Zhu & Bingham (2011) have proposed the illusion is not the misperception of weight but the correct perception of throwability (I obviously quite like this one, and have discussed it here). Interestingly Zhu et al (2013) have since shown that the inertia tensor does not explain the throwing related SWI!

The second set of explanations is 'top down'. The basic hypothesis is that the sensorimotor system expects larger things to weigh more than smaller things, within a class of 'things'. This expectation has been learned over time via experience of the real world in which this is basically true. Large mugs weight more than small mugs, even if large mugs weigh less than small anvils.

There are two interesting papers that have looked at the top-down hypothesis.