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Visual roots of social cognition: Perceiving animacy and intentionality

Dr. Tao Gao

Monday, April 01, 2013, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

MIT, Brain & Cognitive Sciences

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Visual experience involves not only physical features such as color and shape, but also seemingly higher-level properties such as animacy and intentionality. Even simple geometric shapes can be automatically and even irresistibly perceived as animate agents, whose motion is directed by their own goals and intentions. Such percepts are critical for our understanding of the social world, and have captivated cognitive scientists for decades. However, studies in this area have seldom progressed beyond simple phenomenological demonstrations. The current projects demonstrate several new kinds of studies on the visual roots of social cognition, including explorations of (1) just what kinds of cues trigger this form of perception (focusing on both animacy and intentionality); (2) how to characterize it computationally by constructing formal models; (3) how the perception of these social properties influences subsequent perceptual and cog nitive processes (including visual attention and interactive action); and (4) the neural correlates of this particular type of social perception. Collectively, these projects show how the perception of animacy and intentionality is wired into our minds and brains in deeper and more pervasive ways than have been previously appreciated.


Dr. Tao Gao