Your Brain Might Be Distorting Reality

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But there are voices on both sides, says Laura Thomas, an assistant professor of psychology at North Dakota State University who also studies the effects of action on perception. “I actually think that [Witt] is being very careful about trying to address the criticisms that have been posed there,” she says. “She’s doing science the way most of us try to, which is you come up with alternative hypotheses and you test those.” Thomas’s work focuses on the more subtle ways that action can impact how we take in visual information, like how different postures can affect how we receive information from touchscreen devices.

“This modular approach to vision has been an approach that’s been enduring and lasted for a very long time,” Thomas says. “I think that challenging that is important in terms of shifting the way we as researchers are thinking about the issue.”

There’s so much lingering controversy around this work, that Witt says that most of her recent research has been similar to this new study: designed specifically to address a critique. She has a lot more questions about the specifics of how this effect works. What does it mean that it’s experienced differently than a “typical” illusion? Does it also apply to cognitive or artistic efforts, not just physical ones? And what exactly is going on in the brain to produce these changes? She hopes that once the fundamentals of the debate are better resolved, she can go on to study it in more detail.

“I will say that as hard as it is at times, I feel that the critics have really pushed the science in a good way,” she says. “I’m an athlete, and I know the way to be my best is to have the best competitors to go against.”

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