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Concept: Understanding


Human perception is invariably accompanied by a graded feeling of confidence that guides metacognitive awareness and decision-making. It is often assumed that this arises solely from the feed-forward encoding of the strength or precision of sensory inputs. In contrast, interoceptive inference models suggest that confidence reflects a weighted integration of sensory precision and expectations about internal states, such as arousal. Here we test this hypothesis using a novel psychophysical paradigm, in which unseen disgust-cues induced unexpected, unconscious arousal just before participants discriminated motion signals of variable precision. Across measures of perceptual bias, uncertainty, and physiological arousal we found that arousing disgust cues modulated the encoding of sensory noise. Furthermore, the degree to which trial-by-trial pupil fluctuations encoded this nonlinear interaction correlated with trial level confidence. Our results suggest that unexpected arousal regulates perceptual precision, such that subjective confidence reflects the integration of both external sensory and internal, embodied states.

Concepts: Understanding, Cognition, Perception, Sense, Mind, Unsolved problems in neuroscience, Philosophy of perception, Sexual arousal


Social relationships have profound effects on health in humans and other primates, but the mechanisms that explain this relationship are not well understood. Using shotgun metagenomic data from wild baboons, we found that social group membership and social network relationships predicted both the taxonomic structure of the gut microbiome and the structure of genes encoded by gut microbial species. Rates of interaction directly explained variation in the gut microbiome, even after controlling for diet, kinship, and shared environments. They therefore strongly implicate direct physical contact among social partners in the transmission of gut microbial species. We identified 51 socially structured taxa, which were significantly enriched for anaerobic and non-spore-forming lifestyles. Our results argue that social interactions are an important determinant of gut microbiome composition in natural animal populations-a relationship with important ramifications for understanding how social relationships influence health, as well as the evolution of group living.

Concepts: Scientific method, Archaea, Human, Evolution, Understanding, Sociology, Explanation, Group action


To determine the appropriate punishment for a harmful action, people must often make inferences about the transgressor’s intent. In courtrooms and popular media, such inferences increasingly rely on video evidence, which is often played in “slow motion.” Four experiments (n = 1,610) involving real surveillance footage from a murder or broadcast replays of violent contact in professional football demonstrate that viewing an action in slow motion, compared with regular speed, can cause viewers to perceive an action as more intentional. This slow motion intentionality bias occurred, in part, because slow motion video caused participants to feel like the actor had more time to act, even when they knew how much clock time had actually elapsed. Four additional experiments (n = 2,737) reveal that allowing viewers to see both regular speed and slow motion replay mitigates the bias, but does not eliminate it. We conclude that an empirical understanding of the effect of slow motion on mental state attribution should inform the life-or-death decisions that are currently based on tacit assumptions about the objectivity of human perception.

Concepts: Causality, Understanding, Cognition, Perception, Sense, Mind, Concepts in metaphysics, Philosophy of perception


The incorporation of data sharing into the research lifecycle is an important part of modern scholarly debate. In this study, the DataONE Usability and Assessment working group addresses two primary goals: To examine the current state of data sharing and reuse perceptions and practices among research scientists as they compare to the 2009/2010 baseline study, and to examine differences in practices and perceptions across age groups, geographic regions, and subject disciplines. We distributed surveys to a multinational sample of scientific researchers at two different time periods (October 2009 to July 2010 and October 2013 to March 2014) to observe current states of data sharing and to see what, if any, changes have occurred in the past 3-4 years. We also looked at differences across age, geographic, and discipline-based groups as they currently exist in the 2013/2014 survey. Results point to increased acceptance of and willingness to engage in data sharing, as well as an increase in actual data sharing behaviors. However, there is also increased perceived risk associated with data sharing, and specific barriers to data sharing persist. There are also differences across age groups, with younger respondents feeling more favorably toward data sharing and reuse, yet making less of their data available than older respondents. Geographic differences exist as well, which can in part be understood in terms of collectivist and individualist cultural differences. An examination of subject disciplines shows that the constraints and enablers of data sharing and reuse manifest differently across disciplines. Implications of these findings include the continued need to build infrastructure that promotes data sharing while recognizing the needs of different research communities. Moving into the future, organizations such as DataONE will continue to assess, monitor, educate, and provide the infrastructure necessary to support such complex grand science challenges.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Understanding, Science, Perception, Knowledge, Scientist, Scientists


Meta-analyses of continuous outcomes typically provide enough information for decision-makers to evaluate the extent to which chance can explain apparent differences between interventions. The interpretation of the magnitude of these differences - from trivial to large - can, however, be challenging. We investigated clinicians' understanding and perceptions of usefulness of 6 statistical formats for presenting continuous outcomes from meta-analyses (standardized mean difference, minimal important difference units, mean difference in natural units, ratio of means, relative risk and risk difference).

Concepts: Epidemiology, Understanding, Medical statistics, Relative risk, Perception, Mean, Absolute risk reduction, Number needed to treat


Formal metrics for monitoring the quality and safety of healthcare have a valuable role, but may not, by themselves, yield full insight into the range of fallibilities in organizations. ‘Soft intelligence’ is usefully understood as the processes and behaviours associated with seeking and interpreting soft data-of the kind that evade easy capture, straightforward classification and simple quantification-to produce forms of knowledge that can provide the basis for intervention. With the aim of examining current and potential practice in relation to soft intelligence, we conducted and analysed 107 in-depth qualitative interviews with senior leaders, including managers and clinicians, involved in healthcare quality and safety in the English National Health Service. We found that participants were in little doubt about the value of softer forms of data, especially for their role in revealing troubling issues that might be obscured by conventional metrics. Their struggles lay in how to access softer data and turn them into a useful form of knowing. Some of the dominant approaches they used risked replicating the limitations of hard, quantitative data. They relied on processes of aggregation and triangulation that prioritised reliability, or on instrumental use of soft data to animate the metrics. The unpredictable, untameable, spontaneous quality of soft data could be lost in efforts to systematize their collection and interpretation to render them more tractable. A more challenging but potentially rewarding approach involved processes and behaviours aimed at disrupting taken-for-granted assumptions about quality, safety, and organizational performance. This approach, which explicitly values the seeking out and the hearing of multiple voices, is consistent with conceptual frameworks of organizational sensemaking and dialogical understandings of knowledge. Using soft intelligence this way can be challenging and discomfiting, but may offer a critical defence against the complacency that can precede crisis.

Concepts: Understanding, Epistemology, Sociology, Management, Perception, Value, Knowledge, Quantitative research


A traveler visiting Rio, Manila or Caracas does not need a report to learn that these cities are unequal; she can see it directly from the taxicab window. This is because in most cities inequality is conspicuous, but also, because cities express different forms of inequality that are evident to casual observers. Cities are highly heterogeneous and often unequal with respect to the income of their residents, but also with respect to the cleanliness of their neighborhoods, the beauty of their architecture, and the liveliness of their streets, among many other evaluative dimensions. Until now, however, our ability to understand the effect of a city’s built environment on social and economic outcomes has been limited by the lack of quantitative data on urban perception. Here, we build on the intuition that inequality is partly conspicuous to create quantitative measure of a city’s contrasts. Using thousands of geo-tagged images, we measure the perception of safety, class and uniqueness; in the cities of Boston and New York in the United States, and Linz and Salzburg in Austria, finding that the range of perceptions elicited by the images of New York and Boston is larger than the range of perceptions elicited by images from Linz and Salzburg. We interpret this as evidence that the cityscapes of Boston and New York are more contrasting, or unequal, than those of Linz and Salzburg. Finally, we validate our measures by exploring the connection between them and homicides, finding a significant correlation between the perceptions of safety and class and the number of homicides in a NYC zip code, after controlling for the effects of income, population, area and age. Our results show that online images can be used to create reproducible quantitative measures of urban perception and characterize the inequality of different cities.

Concepts: Psychology, Understanding, United States, City, Quantitative research, New York City, Metropolitan area, Global city


Understanding how people form and revise their perception of risk is central to designing efficient risk communication methods, eliciting risk awareness, and avoiding unnecessary anxiety among the public. However, public responses to hazardous events such as climate change, contagious outbreaks, and terrorist threats are complex and difficult-to-anticipate phenomena. Although many psychological factors influencing risk perception have been identified in the past, it remains unclear how perceptions of risk change when propagated from one person to another and what impact the repeated social transmission of perceived risk has at the population scale. Here, we study the social dynamics of risk perception by analyzing how messages detailing the benefits and harms of a controversial antibacterial agent undergo change when passed from one person to the next in 10-subject experimental diffusion chains. Our analyses show that when messages are propagated through the diffusion chains, they tend to become shorter, gradually inaccurate, and increasingly dissimilar between chains. In contrast, the perception of risk is propagated with higher fidelity due to participants manipulating messages to fit their preconceptions, thereby influencing the judgments of subsequent participants. Computer simulations implementing this simple influence mechanism show that small judgment biases tend to become more extreme, even when the injected message contradicts preconceived risk judgments. Our results provide quantitative insights into the social amplification of risk perception, and can help policy makers better anticipate and manage the public response to emerging threats.

Concepts: Psychology, Understanding, Risk, Perception, Mind, Risk perception, Cultural Theory of risk


Tobacco products differ in their relative health harms. The need for educating consumers about such harms is growing as different tobacco products enter the marketplace and as the FDA moves to regulate and educate the public about different products. However, little is known about the patterns of the public’s knowledge of relative harms.

Concepts: Understanding, Tobacco, Learning, Knowledge, Harm reduction, Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, Robert Nozick, Tobacco harm reduction


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.

Concepts: Psychology, Understanding, Perception, Sense, Mind, Mimicry, Information, Philosophy of perception