We are quite excited at the moment, with studies that investigate the role of high order cognitive representations, for example the sense that one owns one’s body, on perceptions as well as on physiological regulation of body tissue. We were doubly excited to be alerted by the superb Mo on Scienceblogs to a great new experimental psychology study, published in Psychological Science (to see the abstract, go here) that shows that the perception of distance – how far away you are from something – is modulated by how much you like that something.
How cool is this: Emily Balcetis and David Dunning (from New York and Cornell University), did several experiments that controlled for all the obvious things and which, together, present a compelling data set. In short, if you are trying to judge how far away a particular item is, your judgment is affected by how much you like that object – the more you like it, the closer you perceive it to be. What has this got to do with us? Well, the obvious one is perception – pain is a perception. The less obvious one, but the one that I reckon is potentially very interesting, concerns the desirability side of things – we know that people with chronic pain disorders often report not liking the painful limb – Jenny Lewis’ (from Bath, UK – due to return from Montreal where she was the very posh 2009 Ronald Melzack Pain Research Fellow) lovely work suggests a good number of patients with CRPS actually detest their painful limb. So, is it possible that this contributes to the problem because their lack of desire for the limb makes it seem further away than it really is? I wouldn’t have predicted that because the same condition is often associated with the perception that the limb is bigger than it really is (which is more like closer than further away). Nonetheless, I don’t understand how all that happens and it would seem possible that if desirability of the limb could disrupt its perceived location in space, then it might thereby contribute to the problem. Speculative for sure, but not outrageous.
Lorimer Moseley (2010). More evidence that high order cognitive representations modulate perception BodyInMind