Departmental Colloquium: Liuba Papeo (CNRS & University Claude Bernard Lyon1): Perceptual grounding of social cognition
Visual perception is attuned to detect stimuli with high social value, such as faces, bodies and biological motion. I will argue that human visual perception is further prepared to represent socially relevant (spatial) relations among multiple entities. This so-far uncharted property of human perception substantiates the construct of social vision, whereby the result of perceptual analysis is not just shape recognition, but information ready for inferential operations in social cognition.
I will discuss the preparedness of human visual perception to represent configurations of multiple entities in spatial positioning that cues interaction, focusing on three empirical phenomena. First, under conditions of low visibility, two bodies facing each other (seemingly interacting) are recognized more accurately and faster than two nonfacing bodies. Moreover, the recognition of facing body-dyads is disproportionately impaired when those stimuli are inverted. Privileged recognition and inversion effect suggest specialized mechanisms for visual perception of interacting bodies. Second, in a visual search task, two facing (i.e., seemingly interacting) bodies are processed more efficiently than two nonfacing (i.e., non-interacting) bodies. In showing that the visual search mechanism has rapid access to relations across multiple objects, this research highlights the perceptual advantage of facing over nonfacing dyads. Functional MRI results will further support this observation. Third, a series of experiments based on a preferential looking paradigm reveals discrimination of facing versus nonfacing bodies, in 6-months-old infants. Thus, the visual sensitivity to interacting bodies seen in adults, does not require decades of exposure to social contexts; it could rather be a signature of early developing perceptual mechanisms that contribute to the construction of mature social cognition. Multi-body perception, where human observers attain a fast, initial appraisal of possible relations in a scene, may be the crucial mechanism that channels body perception into social cognition; in other words, the (missing) link between perception and cognition.