Movement properties that provoke mental inference

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Chapter 12 endnote 51, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Even Heider’s and Simmel’s shapes seem human-like, because their speed and trajectories are reminiscent of people chasing one another. [...] The similarities to humans can be simple.

Simple features of an object — such as its speed of movement (if it is similar to a human's speed), or whether objects chase and follow one another, or if they move around apparent obstacles — can make an object seem as if it has a mind.[1] When we perceive animals such as dogs, wolves, lions, horses, and rats moving at the same speed as a human, then we also are more likely to believe they have minds.[2] That’s one reason the Heider and Simmel movies are so effective; even 13-month-old children make inferences about moving circles and triangles.[3] This reveals that our concepts contain information like the speed of movement and the spatial relations between objects as they dynamically change over time.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Opfer, John E. 2002. "Identifying living and sentient kinds from dynamic information: The case of goal-directed versus aimless autonomous movement in conceptual change." Cognition 86 (2): 97-122.
  2. Morewedge, Carey K., Jesse Preston, and Daniel M. Wegner. 2007. "Timescale bias in the attribution of mind." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93 (1): 1-11.
  3. Southgate, Victoria, and Gergely Csibra. 2009. "Inferring the outcome of an ongoing novel action at 13 months." Developmental psychology 45 (6): 1794-1798.