Posted in communication and networking, Optics

Hooray for immature brains!

Here’s one more awesome thing about being a kid: you don’t get fooled by certain optical illusions. From Science News and Wired:

Sometimes seeing means deceiving before believing, depending on your age. Children and adults size up objects differently, giving youngsters protection against a visual illusion that bedevils their elders, a new study suggests.

This unusual triumph of kids over grown-ups suggests that the brain’s capacity to consider the context of visual scenes, and not just focus on parts of scenes, develops slowly, say psychologist Martin Doherty of the University of Stirling in Scotland and his colleagues. Even at age 10, children lack adults’ attunement to visual context, Doherty’s team concludes in a paper published online November 12 in Developmental Science.

As a result, visual context can be experimentally manipulated to distort adults’ perception of objects’ sizes. But Doherty’s group finds that children, especially those younger than 7, show little evidence of altered size perception on a task called the Ebbinghaus illusion.

“When visual context is misleading, adults literally see the world less accurately than they did as children,” Doherty says.

This pattern holds for Scottish children and adults in the new study as well as for Japanese children and adults who participated in other investigations conducted by Doherty’s team.

Some researchers argue that East Asians focus broadly on the context of what they see while Westerners focus narrowly on central figures. Doherty says the new findings instead indicate that adults in both Scotland and Japan can’t help but track visual context, although this tendency was stronger in the Japanese adults.

Other investigators have noted that children with autism don’t succumb to visual size illusions, consistent with the idea that autism involves an excessive focus on details. But visual context largely eludes all young children, not just those with autism, Doherty asserts.

Even if the new findings hold up, it’s still possible that further research will show that children with autism develop a susceptibility to size illusions more slowly than those without it, remarks psychologist Danielle Ropar of the University of Nottingham in England.

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Author:

Beth Kelley is a writer and researcher with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.