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Gating of remote effects on lightness

Paola Bressan, Peter Kramer

In various versions of the dungeon illusion (P. Bressan, 2001), we show that grouping between targets and contextual disks determines whether remote luminances affect target lightness or not. In the dungeon illusion, target disks surrounded by contextual disks contrast with them rather than with the immediate background. We formally establish the existence of this illusion and show that it reverses when the luminance of the targets is either lower (double decrement) or higher (double increment) than the luminances of both the background and the contextual disks rather than in between them. On the basis of the double-anchoring theory of lightness (P. Bressan, 2006a), we predict and show that grouping gates the effects of remote luminances in such a way that they go in opposite directions in the double-decrement and double-increment inverted-dungeon illusions. Our results support the double-anchoring theory and demonstrate that luminances that are far away from the targets are irrelevant in some conditions but critical in others.

Bressan, P., & Kramer, P. (2008). Gating of remote effects on lightness. Journal of Vision, 8(2):16, 1-8.

See original paper on the Journal of Vision website (the pdf can be downloaded for free)

color dungeon

The central eight disks in each panel look either bluish or greenish, but they are all actually grey.


The best men are (not always) already taken: Female preference for single versus attached males depends on conception risk

Paola Bressan, Debora Stranieri

Because men of higher genetic quality tend to be poorer partners and parents than men of lower genetic quality, women may profit from securing a stable investment from the latter, while obtaining good genes via extrapair mating with the former. Only if conception occurs, however, do the evolutionary benefits of such a strategy overcome its costs. Accordingly, we predicted that (a) partnered women should prefer attached men, because such men are more likely than single men to have pair-bonding qualities, and hence to be good replacement partners, and (b) this inclination should reverse when fertility rises, because attached men are less available for impromptu sex than single men. In this study, 208 women rated the attractiveness of men described as single or attached. As predicted, partnered women favored attached men at the low-fertility phases of the menstrual cycle, but preferred single men (if masculine, i.e., advertising good genetic quality) when conception risk was high.

Bressan, P., & Stranieri, D. (2008). The best men are (not always) already taken: Female preference for single versus attached males depends on conception risk. Psychological Science, 19, 145-151.


• read coverage in Nature (“Fertile wives find single men sexy”, 26 February 2008)

Visual attentional capture predicts belief in a meaningful world

Paola Bressan, Peter Kramer, Mara Germani

Here we show that the automatic, involuntary process of attentional capture is predictive of beliefs that are typically considered as much more complex and higher-level. Whereas some beliefs are well supported by evidence, others, such as the belief that coincidences occur for a reason, are not. We argue that the tendency to assign meaning to coincidences is a byproduct of an adaptive system that creates and maintains cognitive schemata, and automatically directs attention to violations of a currently active schema. Earlier studies have shown that, within subjects, attentional capture increases with schema strength. Yet, between-subjects effects could exist too: whereas each of us has schemata of various strengths, most likely different individuals are differently inclined to maintain strong or weak ones. Since schemata can be interpreted as beliefs, we predict more attentional capture for subjects with stronger beliefs than for subjects with weaker ones. We measured visual attentional capture in a reaction time experiment, and correlated it with scores on questionnaires about religious and other beliefs and about meaningfulness and surprisingness of coincidences. We found that visual attentional capture predicts a belief in meaningfulness of coincidences, and that this belief mediates a relationship between visual attentional capture and religiosity. Remarkably, strong believers were more disturbed by schema violations than weak believers, and yet appeared less aware of the disrupting events. We conclude that (a) religious people have a stronger belief in meaningfulness of coincidences, indicative of a more general tendency to maintain strong schemata, and that (b) this belief leads them to suppress, ignore, or forget information that has demonstrably captured their attention, but happens to be inconsistent with their schemata.

Bressan, P., Kramer, P., & Germani, M. (2008). Visual attentional capture predicts belief in a meaningful world. Cortex, 44, 1299-1306.