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PLoS One. 2016 Mar 8;11(3):e0150615. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150615. eCollection 2016.

You Don't See What I See: Individual Differences in the Perception of Meaning from Visual Stimuli.

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Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria, 3010, Australia.


Everyone has their own unique version of the visual world and there has been growing interest in understanding the way that personality shapes one's perception. Here, we investigated meaningful visual experiences in relation to the personality dimension of schizotypy. In a novel approach to this issue, a non-clinical sample of subjects (total n = 197) were presented with calibrated images of scenes, cartoons and faces of varying visibility embedded in noise; the spatial properties of the images were constructed to mimic the natural statistics of the environment. In two experiments, subjects were required to indicate what they saw in a large number of unique images, both with and without actual meaningful structure. The first experiment employed an open-ended response paradigm and used a variety of different images in noise; the second experiment only presented a series of faces embedded in noise, and required a forced-choice response from the subjects. The results in all conditions indicated that a high positive schizotypy score was associated with an increased tendency to perceive complex meaning in images comprised purely of random visual noise. Individuals high in positive schizotypy seemed to be employing a looser criterion (response bias) to determine what constituted a 'meaningful' image, while also being significantly less sensitive at the task than those low in positive schizotypy. Our results suggest that differences in perceptual performance for individuals high in positive schizotypy are not related to increased suggestibility or susceptibility to instruction, as had previously been suggested. Instead, the observed reductions in sensitivity along with increased response bias toward seeing something that is not there, indirectly implicated subtle neurophysiological differences associated with the personality dimension of schizotypy, that are theoretically pertinent to the continuum of schizophrenia and hallucination-proneness.

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