Vision Sciences Stuff - Friday

This week I’m attending the annual meeting of the Vision Sciences Society in Naples Florida. Because I have limited endurance for talks, I tend to sample a fairly small number each day. That means I missed a lot of cool research. Rather than posting a “top 3″ or “best of” list, I’ll just post about a subset of the cool, interesting, funny, or quirky (I won’t say which) talks/posters I happened to catch each day. Here are a couple of posters that caught my eye on Friday.

1) “When walls are no longer barriers: Perception of obstacle height in Parkour” by Eric Taylor, Mila Sugovic, and Jessica Witt. This poster reported a study of skilled Parkour athletes—the sort of street running, wall-climbing, and and jumping showcased at the start of the latest James Bond movie. Parkour athletes can scale walls that are too high for untrained athletes to clear, so the question was whether these athletes would perceive those high walls as shorter than would people who couldn’t scale them. The authors used 3 wall heights. The Parkour athletes could consistently scale the smaller two sizes, but the novices could only scale the smaller one. The interesting finding: Parkour athletes judged the size of the two smaller walls to be roughly the same height and somewhat underestimated the height of the middle one. In contrast, the novices overestimated the height of the middle wall, the one they couldn’t clear. The finding suggests that the different actions that a person can perform on an object affect a judgment of size in an interesting way.

A) “Distinguishing losses as wins in multi-line video slot machines” by Mike Dixon & Kevin Harrigan. This one isn’t really a study of vision, but it has interesting implications for the discrepancy between rational decision making and what people actually do. For some slot machines, gamblers can bet on up to 15 lines per spin, and when all the items on a line match, the player wins. When that happens, the items flash and the machine tallies up the winnings. When no lines match, the player loses and there is no feedback. Unlike traditional slots in which the player either wins or loses on each bet, here the player could win on one line and lose on all the others. Depending on the amount of the winnings and on the number of lines bet, it’s possible to win on one line, but still lose money. For example, you could bet on 15 lines at a cost of $1.00/line. You might then “win” $7.00 if one line matched up, but you’d still have lost $8.00 on the bet overall. The reinforcement the gambler receives is based on whether any line “won” and not on whether they actually won any money on the overall bet. The authors describe this result as a “loss disguised as a win” (an LDW). The key result: skin conductance responses following an LDW was elevated in the same way as for an actual win, with both more elevated than following a loss. Apparently, these LDWs produce the same sort of rush as a win even though the gambler actually lost, which makes it more likely they’ll continue gambling. That sort of arousal reinforces the gambler and encourages them to continue gambling, probably more than they would if they had just lost the same amount of money. My bet is that people might be even less likely to think through the consequences of their bets when they are losing but still experiencing the arousal that accompanies winning.

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