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VLST Lecture Series: Benjamin van Buren, "Seeing minds in motion: How is the perception of animacy connected to the rest of the mind?"

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm

Cohen Hall 402

The goal of vision science is to figure out how we see. But perhaps an even more foundational question is: What do we see? Beyond seemingly simple features such as color and shape, recent work suggests that visual processing also extracts properties that are more intuitively associated with higher-level thought – such as animacy and intentionality. Psychologists have long marveled at demonstrations in which simple moving shapes look alive and goal-directed (e.g. when they appear to be ‘chasing’ each other, or ‘trying’ to satisfy certain goals). However, this phenomenon has often been treated as an isolated curiosity, without a clear relationship to the rest of the mind. In this talk, I will present evidence that the perception of animacy is connected to other perceptual and cognitive processes in far richer ways than have been previously imagined – profoundly influencing nearly all aspects of cognition, including goal-directed behavior, memory, attention, and visual awareness. This work collectively shows how processes of social perception can provide a rich foundation for higher-level thought and behavior.