Socially shared perception and the sense of reality

When we perceive the world, we see shapes, colours, and movement, experience textures through touch, and hear the timbre and frequency of sounds. But there is more to perception than sensory contents: we also have the feeling that the things we perceive are real and not, for example, merely imagined. We have a sense of reality. This sense is often taken for granted, but what makes an experience feel real? What gives a sense of reality to our perceptual experiences? Most scientific and philosophical treatments of the sense of reality in perception take an individualistic approach. Many perceptual experiences, however, are not merely individual, but socially shared. What is the role of socially shared perception in supporting the sense of reality?

The aim of this project is (1) to advance a suitable costruct of the sense of reality in perception, and (2) to examine how the sense of reality is constructed through shared perception. I will critically examine the claim that the ability to coordinate my perception to an object together with another individual, goes hand in hand with the ability to experience objects as real, and differentiate them from hallucinations and imagery.

Social influences on perception and metacognition

Perceptual experience provides rational support for actions, beliefs, and intentions. When you see a banana as yellow, that perceptual experience makes it reasonable for you to believe that the banana is yellow. But decades of research show that other people have an implicit impact on individual perception and cognition. This influence even occurs with the mere presence of others: we unconsciously and spontaneously encode others’ perceptual perspectives and shift our frame of reference accordingly. Theories of human perception and attention, however, have been predominantly centred on the solitary mind. What is the epistemic standing of socially influenced perception?

To answer this question, one of the key factors that must be addressed is conscious access. If you are unaware that others distort your perceptual experience, are you responsible for the beliefs and behaviours based on that experience? What is, if any, the epistemic responsibility of other agents in distorting, or aiding, an individual’s perception? Building on current models of perceptual metacognition, the project will (1) develop a principled way to determine experimentally whether social influences on perception are still minimally accessible to consciousness, and (2) examining how these social influences and their metacognitive profile modulate the epistemic role of perceptual experience in justifying actions and beliefs.

Joint attention: Perception and other minds

From care-giver and infant playing with a toy, to singing duets or playing basketball, we frequently and effortlessly coordinate our attention with others towards a common focus. Joint attention plays a fundamental role in our social lives: it ensures that we refer to the same object, develop a shared language, understand each other and coordinate our actions.

This project aims is to elucidate the relational nature of joint attention, and its functional significance for social cognition, including cases involving different sense modalities and more complex forms of joint activities.

The project's subgoals are to:

  • clarify the role of perceptual experience for characterising joint attention;
  • propose a functional framework to assess multisensory contributions to establishing and maintaining joint attention;
  • test the hypothesis that engaging in joint attention can affect the processing of multisensory information.