MBB Junior Symposium 2011: Social Vision


Sunday, September 18, 2011, 10:00am to 4:30pm


William James Hall, 33 Kirkland St.

Juniors and seniors who are completing the symposium requirement – and thus who will be attending the entire symposium – should pre-register at the bottom of the page by Wednesday, September 14th.
This event is not open to the public.

The MBB junior symposium is an all-day meeting that features talks by and discussions with a variety of scholars on an interdisciplinary theme in mind/brain/behavior. The symposium will include speaker presentations, a lunch with speakers and MBB faculty, discussion groups, and closing panel. It is open to MBB juniors and those MBB seniors who did not attend the 2010 symposium. It is required of students pursuing the Certificate in MBB (students in honors MBB tracks) and is also open to students pursuing or considering a secondary field in MBB. This year we are also pleased to invite all MBB undergraduates to the morning talks.

This symposium addresses questions at the intersection of vision science and social psychology. We'll approach this intersection from two directions. First, vision science has been building a trajectory toward increasingly social stimuli. For over a century vision scientists have examined how our perception of ordinary objects such as cars and keys are built up from perception of edges, contrast and motion. Only later did vision scientists examine how the visual system responds to social stimuli, such as faces and specifically animate motion. More recently, research has focused on visual cues for agency and emotions. From the other direction, social psychologists have recently begun to examine how social background information comes to affect visual perception. We'll hear about how implicit forms of racism and other bias, and emotional background may affect conscious perceptual judgment, attention, and other forms of visual processing.

10:00 am Registration (outside William James Hall 1)
10:15 Welcome and Introduction, Susanna Siegel (William James Hall 1)

Keith Payne
Prejudice and Perception

Lisa Feldman Barrett
The Links between Feeling and Seeing; The Affective Vision Hypothesis

Brian Scholl
It's Alive!: Some Visual Roots of Social Cognition
1:30 pm Lunch (William James 1550)
2:30 Discussion Groups (specific group assignments will be made at registration)
Group A, William James 4 - Lisa Barrett, Eric Mandelbaum, and Susanna Siegel
Group B, William James 422 - Edward Kravitz and Sebastian Watzl
Group C, William James 474 - Anya Farrenikova and Brian Scholl
Group D, William James 950 - Chaz Firestone, Keith Payne, and Robert Stickgold
3:30 Closing Panel (William James 1)

Keith Payne
Associate Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina
Prejudice and Perception
Can social categories shape what we see? I will describe a series of studies demonstrating that race stereotypes can lead people to misidentify harmless objects as weapons. I will also discuss conditions under which such effects reflect errors of action, and conditions in which they reflect errors of perception.

Lisa Feldman Barrett
Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Northeastern University
The Links between Feeling and Seeing; The Affective Vision Hypothesis
Emerging neuroscientific evidence suggests that visual cortex is modulated by the areas of the brain that represent a person’s affective state. These connections suggest that hypothesis that seeing not only influences feeling, but the opposite might also be true: how a person feels might influence what a person sees. We call this the “affective vision hypothesis.” Within the framework of the affective vision hypothesis, we examined three previously untested questions about how feeling might influence seeing: does a perceiver’s momentary feeling (1) enhance detection of objects before they reach consciousness (the “affective blindsight hypothesis”), (2) influence what visual information reaches consciousness (the “affective salience hypothesis”), and (3) change how visual information is interpreted (the “affective realism hypothesis”).

Brian Scholl
Professor of Psychology, Yale University
It's Alive!: Some Visual Roots of Social Cognition
Beyond features such as color and shape, visual percepts can also involve properties that we typically associate with higher-level cognition -- such as animacy and intentionality. Cognitive scientists have long been captivated by such phenomena, but have faced challenges in studying them with precision, and in distinguishing true perceptual effects from higher-level inferences. I will describe and demonstrate several projects from our group that address these challenges, exploring the perception of animacy from some new perspectives: (1) Demonstrations of several new types of perceived animacy (including the 'psychophysics of chasing', the 'wolfpack effect', and the 'slithering snake' animation; (2) Illustrations of how it is possible to assess the objective accuracy of certain types of perceived animacy; and (3) Explorations of how perceived animacy connects up with the rest of mind, and influences other aspects of perception and attention. Each of these research strands will involve perceptually salient demonstrations of various types. Collectively, these projects show how the perception of animacy and intentionality is wired into our minds in deep and pervasive ways, and how perception involves recovering not only the physical structure of the world, but also its causal and social structure.


Edward Kravitz
George Packer Berry Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

Susanna Siegel
Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University

Robert Stickgold
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School