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Journal Article

Metric biases in body representation extend to objects


Peviani,  Valeria Carmen
Department of Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Brain and Behavioural Sciences, University of Pavia;


Melloni,  Lucia
Department of Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Neurology, New York University School of Medicine;

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Peviani, V. C., Magnani, F. G., Bottini, G., & Melloni, L. (2021). Metric biases in body representation extend to objects. Cognition, 206: 104490. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104490.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-E518-C
We typically misestimate the dimensions of our body e.g., we perceive our fingers as shorter, and our torso as more elongated, than they actually are. It stands to reason that those metric biases may also extend to objects that we interact with, to facilitate attunement with the environment. To explore this hypothesis, we compared the metric representations of seven objects and the subjects' own hand using the Line Length Judgment task, in six experiments involving 152 healthy subjects. We evaluated the size estimation errors made for each target (hand or previously observed objects) by asking subjects to compare the vertical or horizontal dimension of a specific target against the length of a vertical or horizontal line. As expected, we showed that the hand is misperceived in its dimensions. Interestingly, we found that metric biases are also present for daily-life objects, such as a mobile phone and a coffee mug, and are not affected by familiarity with the objects. In contrast, objects that are less likely to be manipulated, either because they are potentially harmful or disgusting, were differently represented. Furthermore, the propensity to interact with an object, rated by an independent sample of subjects, best predicted the pattern of metric biases associated with that object. Taken together, these findings support the hypothesis that biases affecting the hand representation extend to objects that elicit action-oriented behavior, highlighting the importance of studying the body as integrated and active in the environment.