You may have heard that you can only relate to someone or something based on your previous experiences, but what’s happening in the brain to cause that phenomenon?
Researchers have determined that your perception is influenced by your past experiences, starting with your visual processing. This isn’t just confined to how the brain processes visual input, but even the manner that your eyes perceive something is going to be different based on what you’ve seen in the past.
It’s also influenced by what action you took when you saw something similar in the past. If you saw an object that you then recognized as a tool, your brain will process the information and perceive it as a tool quickly, but in less detail than if you didn’t associate that object as a tool. When faced with new visual input that we haven’t experienced before, the eyes and brain perceive it more slowly, paying more attention to the details.
The brain and visual system also prefers and processes information related to objects that you can work with your hands much faster than objects which might be tangible, but you can’t pick up or manipulate with your hands. The brain can recognize abnormalities and details about objects that are commonly manipulated faster (like when you see a cup versus seeing a decorative bowl).
These differences in visual processing times means that the visual system is choosing to register and process information with different regions of the brain. In this way, how you know to use an object or identify its purpose directs what part of the brain will process the visual input and your perception.
As it turns out, seeing is believing.
Dick Dubbelde, Sarah Shomstein. Mugs and Plants: Object Semantic Knowledge Alters Perceptual Processing With Behavioral Ramifications. Psychological Science, 2022; 095679762210974 DOI: 10.1177/09567976221097497