Research in social cognition and neuroscience has revealed much about how people visually extract information regarding another person’s age, race, emotional states, and other characteristics. Most of this research has focused on faces. However, bodies are another important carrier of social information. Despite this, there is no clear understanding of the mechanisms behind body perception, in contrast to well-developed models for face perception. Therefore, the overarching aim of this project is to contribute to the understanding of person perception, considering both faces and bodies, and the attribution of social categories and attributes to others. I plan to achieve this by combining a range of behavioural and neuroimaging techniques, which will help identify how representations of people’s appearance are influenced from the earliest stages by stereotypes, and other social-cognitive processes.
One powerful construct that has been applied to understanding visual mental representations is that of the mental “space”. Each face or body is represented as a “point” in a mental “space”, the dimensions of which describe perception and could correspond to social concepts such as traits, emotions, race, age, etc. Additionally, mental spaces help to understand the cross-over effects of separate social dimensions found in previous literature, suggesting that they are interdependent. I am interested in some key questions: what are the dimensions of mental spaces representing bodies and faces?; how do these dimensions relate to perceptual and social variables?; and do “intertwined” mental spaces help explain some aspects of social judgments and behaviour?
This project will shed new light on our rich visual representations of the social world, by showing how our everyday social life deeply shapes even basic processes of visual perception. The results will inform existing and new models of face and body perception, which is an important aspect of social interactions. Specifically, the results will contribute to understanding the rapid and sometimes biased cognitive processes that drive social behaviour.