Benjamin van Buren
Department of Psychology
Eugene Lang College
Seeing minds in motion: How is the perception of animacy connected to the rest of the mind?
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.