The conflict between perception and expectation


The clip below discusses why it is so disorienting to go into one of those rooms that are just like normal rooms, except that they are tilted. Even being aware of the source of the effect does not prevent people from feeling a strong sense of discomfort, even nausea.

The problem is that we cannot just take in external sense data. We also impose upon it our prior knowledge and expectations of how things should look and behave and when there is a mismatch between the two, this causes problems.

Over time, we may be able to reconcile the two. There was a famous experiment done over fifty years ago (Thomas Kuhn refers to it in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in which people were outfitted with glasses that made everything look upside down. Of course, they could barely function at the beginning. But over time, as they got used to the new reality and created a new set of expectations, they became able to act almost normally.

Comments

  1. hyphenman says

    Happy Solstice Mano!

    I first encountered this phenomenon when I was in the Navy and spent a great deal of time in small spaces pitching, yawing and rolling in often unpredictable way as much as 30 degrees off vertical. I was only seasick once — and the seas were so rough that the Captain was eating saltines on the bridge — but the common cure for new sailors was time on deck, not for the fresh air, but rather for the view of the steady horizon.

    Years later, when I began playing video games on my computer, I began to experience serious nausea when the games became more and more real. The last game I played was Quake III and I had to stop after playing for about 30 minutes. The game I most missed was one of the very real flight simulators that had a combat mode. I was fine flying and doing aerobatics but I quickly lost my stomach in dog fights.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff

  2. Mano Singham says

    That’s interesting. I had not been aware that video games could also do that, since the screen was small and didn’t surround you.

  3. says

    It’s never bothered me personally, but I’ve had friends who could not play some first-person games (don’t remember if we discussed a particular game, or such games as a group, anymore).

  4. says

    It may be because I’m younger — My first “hyperrealistic” experience was walking in on my brother playing Return To Castle Wolfenstein and being creeped out by how realistic the face was in his sniper scope from a distance — but I haven’t gotten nauseous from games.

    That said, with large monitors I do really feel like I get into the games. My wife is endlessly amused by how violently I can react when I fall in a game, sometimes almost jumping out of my chair.

  5. wtfwhateverd00d says

    A lot of the problems of video games are due to poor screen resolution, poor frame rate, and simulated or no 3D which makes the effect worse for observers who view a scene from an angle.

    Regarding the professor, I really enjoyed his movies from the 70s that I would catch on Cinemax in the 80s. But talk about the conflict between perception and expectation, I had to see those movies through ever changing squiggly lines and then they were censored!

    Regarding Manhattanite hipster and his haunted shack, oops, wait, no, Knotts Berry Farm built one of those in 1954: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haunted_Shack. I loved that place as a kid. Anyway, glad it was fun for him to build, can’t wait for the TED talk.

  6. says

    Agreeing with hyphenman (Comment 1): I grew up sailing and did a stint in the Navy. My sea legs came to me early on in my life, but many video games give me motion sickness.

    Agreeing with wtfwhateverd00d (Comment 5): The games that make me physically ill are Wolfenstein 3D, Borderlands, Minecraft, Fallout 3, Doom, and Quake. I can play them to varying degrees, but all will make me ill within an hour.

  7. Kilian Hekhuis says

    “There was a famous experiment done over fifty years ago (Thomas Kuhn refers to it in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in which people were outfitted with glasses that made everything look upside down. Of course, they could barely function at the beginning. But over time, as they got used to the new reality and created a new set of expectations, they became able to act almost normally.”

    What I’ve always read is that they actually perceived the world as normal (rather than just coping), after a few days. Quick googling seems to support this:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perceptual_adaptation
    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2012/nov/12/improbable-research-seeing-upside-down

    As for getting nauseous, playing Doom (the first 1st person shooter that didn’t stick to the Wolfenstein pseudo 3D) got me nauseous after playing > 1 hour, but *watching* someone play got me nauseous almost instantly. Kinda like getting nauseous in a car when not the driver, I guess.

  8. Mano Singham says

    That is what Kuhn and others said, implying that after some time the brain kind of re-flipped the image. But I went and looked at the original paper and the authors do not actually say that. What they say is that the test subjects were able to somehow adjust to the new system and function within it. It remained unclear how they actually did that and the technology was just not there at the time to figure it out. If the experiment is repeated now with fMRI machines, they may be able to distinguish between the brain flipping the image or not.

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