ECVP 2005 Abstract
doi:10.1068/v050122

Cite as:
Congiu S, Ray E D, Cownie J, Schlottmann A, 2005, "The role of spatial contiguity in perception of causality" Perception 34 ECVP Abstract Supplement

The role of spatial contiguity in perception of causality

S Congiu, E D Ray, J Cownie, A Schlottmann

Adults see causality in schematic events: if square A moves towards B, which moves immediately upon contact, they report that A launches B--physical causality; but if B moves before contact, so that both move simultaneously for some time, observers report that B tries to escape from A--social/psychological causality. In two experiments, we examined how the spatial and temporal configurations of events affect these causality illusions. In study 1 we varied: (i) size of the gap between A's final and B's initial location, (ii) which object moved first, and (iii) whether objects moved contiguously or simultaneously. Twenty-three observers rated degree of physical and psychological causality for 5 replications of the 7 × 2 × 2 within-subjects factorial design. A-first contiguous motion received high physical and low psychological ratings. The reverse appeared for the other three events. Gap size affected only A-first contiguous motion: physical ratings decreased with it, but psychological ratings increased. Overall, causal impressions depended on event type and spatial contiguity. Event-type effects, however, could be spatial contiguity effects in disguise: identical gaps between trajectories produce different gaps at the point when the second object starts to move for different temporal configurations. For instance, in A-first contiguous motion the objects come closer than in simultaneous motion where B moves away before A reaches it. Thus lower physical ratings for the latter may be due to larger gaps at the point of closest approach. Accordingly, in study 2 (unfinished), event configurations were equated on the gap present as the second object started to move. Results show clearly that ratings for all event types depend on gap size, but that event type has independent effects. Taken together, these findings help clarify the role of spatial contiguity in perceptual causality: it contributes to the distinction between physical and psychological causality, but is not its only determinant.

[Supported by ESRC project grant RES-000-23-0198.]

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