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WIREs Cogn Sci
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The experience error and the perils of psychopsychology

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‘The stimuli were four similar yellow objects flashing on a white background’. These words might not raise eyebrows when read in a research paper, but they should, because they probably commit the experience error (EE), in which the structure of our percepts is attributed to the stimulus rather than to our perceptual system. These words are less a description of the physical stimulus than of how that stimulus appears to human observers. That is problematic because perception is often incomplete or illusory. When we commit the EE, we confuse the external, physical stimulus with a response, namely our perception of it. Thus, we may end up relating psychological responses to stimuli solely to our psychological descriptions of those stimuli. This in turn may transform psychophysics into ‘psychopsychology’ and thus inadvertently leave the physical world out of our explanation of perception; and it may potentially demote proper experiments to correlational studies that lack the capacity to support inferences about cause and effect. Identified long ago, the EE is nearly forgotten today. We aim to reintroduce, clarify, and illustrate the idea more clearly, as well as to suggest possible preventions or cures. WIREs Cogn Sci 2014, 5:509–517. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1302 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Attention Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics Psychology > Theory and Methods
This stimulus can be seen as 1 word, as 4 letters, as 12 fragments, or as more than 100,000 pixels on the screen (this image measures 640 × 160 pixels).
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Although the four white‐looking shapes on the black‐looking background appear to vary in size and in slant, they are identical.
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(a) A single line curving rightward in a field of 15 others curving leftward. (b) Adding another 16 leftward curving lines makes spotting the odd one much easier.
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R. C. James' famous Dalmatian dog photograph.
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A 50 × 50 grid of numbers, with each cell signifying the lightness (from 0 to 255) of the corresponding area on the photograph from which this grid was constructed. If one colors the grid using paints whose lightness corresponds to the numbers in each cell, you will see a picture of Wolfgang Köhler.
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Psychology > Theory and Methods
Psychology > Attention
Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics

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