Illusory Conjunctions

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Illusory conjunctions happen when features of one stimulus are mistaken for features of a stimulus in close relation. For example, some participants see a green O and a red L but they commonly mistake seeing a green L and a red O. Researchers have found the illusory conjunctions are not strongly caused by spatial location, but one’s perceptual system often errs, borrowing attributes for a stimulus from its close neighbors. On the other hand, illusory conjunctions of simple symbols do not follow the same rules of the semantic expectations.

Socially relevant stimuli can have different processing mechanisms that can make the illusory conjunctions more likely to conform to social schemas. An experiment was conducted to prove this. Thirty-three men and thirty-two women participated in a standard computer-administered illusory-conjunction task. Stimuli were faces of six Black men and six White men making both angry and neutral expressions. During each trial, a fixation point appeared for 1,000ms, and then two faces appeared side by side for 100ms. The participants were asked the sum of the numbers and to identify either the expression or the race. Anger on a distractor was more likely to jump from a Black man than to a White man. The association with anger towards the Black men’s faces was caused by nonrandom illusory conjunctions that followed stereotypic expectations.

The study has shown that when the content is socially and functionally relevant, illusory conjunctions do follow stereotypic expectations. These findings have important implications for social issues of all sorts and play a critical role that content can play in the search of basic cognitive processes.
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