When Your Eyes Tell Your Hands What to Think: You’re Far Less in Control of Your Brain Than You Think
You’ve probably never given much thought to the fact that picking up your cup of morning coffee presents your brain with a set of complex decisions. You need to decide how to aim your hand, grasp the handle and raise the cup to your mouth, all without spilling the contents on your lap.
A new Northwestern University study shows that, not only does your brain handle such complex decisions for you, it also hides information from you about how those decisions are made.
“Our study gives a salient example,” said Yangqing ‘Lucie’ Xu, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern. “When you pick up an object, your brain automatically decides how to control your muscles based on what your eyes provide about the object’s shape. When you pick up a mug by the handle with your right hand, you need to add a clockwise twist to your grip to compensate for the extra weight that you see on the left side of the mug.
“We showed that the use of this visual information is so powerful and automatic that we cannot turn it off. When people see an object weighted in one direction, they actually can’t help but ‘feel’ the weight in that direction, even when they know that we’re tricking them,” Xu said.