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Psychol Res. 2008 May;72(3):304-10. Epub 2007 Apr 5.

Affective stimulus properties influence size perception and the Ebbinghaus illusion.

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Department of Social Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


In the New Look literature of the 1950s, it has been suggested that size judgments are dependent on the affective content of stimuli. This suggestion, however, has been 'discredited' due to contradictory findings and methodological problems. In the present study, we revisited this forgotten issue in two experiments. The first experiment investigated the influence of affective content on size perception by examining judgments of the size of target circles with and without affectively loaded (i.e., positive, neutral, and negative) pictures. Circles with a picture were estimated to be smaller than circles without a picture, and circles with a negative picture were estimated to be larger than circles with a positive or a neutral picture confirming the suggestion from the 1950s that size perception is influenced by affective content, an effect notably confined to negatively loaded stimuli. In a second experiment, we examined whether affective content influenced the Ebbinghaus illusion. Participants judged the size of a target circle whereby target and flanker circles differed in affective loading. The results replicated the first experiment. Additionally, the Ebbinghaus illusion was shown to be weakest for a negatively loaded target with positively loaded and blank flankers. A plausible explanation for both sets of experimental findings is that negatively loaded stimuli are more attention demanding than positively loaded or neutral stimuli.

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