Perceptual sensitivity is modulated by what others can see

Published in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 2019

Recommended citation: Seow, T. & Fleming, S. M. (2019). Perceptual sensitivity is modulated by what others can see. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 81, 1979–1990.

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Previous work has established that social cues such as the direction of others’ gaze or their perspective on a scene may influence one’s own perceptual judgments. However, up until now it has remained unclear whether such influences are exerted at a perceptual or decisional locus, as most previous studies have used response times as their primary dependent measure. Here, we asked whether perceptual sensitivity is also dependent on social cognition. To test this hypothesis, we asked participants to evaluate whether low-contrast Gabor patterns embedded in noise were visible from either their own or an avatar’s perspective. Across three experiments, we found that observers’ detection performance was increased if an avatar also shared perception of the stimulus location. By leveraging signal detection modelling, we show that this effect is driven by a change in perceptual sensitivity (d′), independent of decisional or response interference. Furthermore, by “blindfolding” the avatar, we show that the boosting effect of shared perception on detection sensitivity is only obtained when the participant believes the avatar can also see the stimulus, ruling out an influence of low-level directional cues. We interpret these results within a framework in which the avatar’s perspective boosts top-down spatial attention by prioritising particular spatial locations at which perception is shared. In summary, we reveal that perceptual sensitivity is modulated by the perspective of others.