Washington, DC – April 25, 2017 – It’s a common misconception that the world is a blank slate, or that we can make it up as we go along.
That’s just not true, according to a new paper published in Science.
In a study of about 2,000 people in the US, researchers found that the way we think about the world, how we act and what we see around us is shaped by the way our brains function.
The paper by researchers from Washington State University and the University of California at Berkeley, “The World Is Not What We Think It is,” also reveals that there are important connections between what we think of as our environment and what’s happening in the real world, as well as between our thoughts and our actions.
What’s the difference between reality and perception?
What we perceive as reality is based on our own cognitive and perceptual systems, said Michael J. Bierman, professor of psychology and senior author of the paper.
“Our brain uses a process called semantic memory to remember what’s real and what isn’t.
We use semantic memory for our beliefs, our beliefs about what we know, our desires, our emotions, our thoughts, and our beliefs in the world around us.”
For example, if a person’s head has been surgically removed and the brain has been reconstructed, the person might be able to see that their own face has been removed, or if they’ve had a procedure to change the shape of their facial bones, they might be convinced that their face is no longer there.
These perceptions, or beliefs, have a physical representation in our brain.
Biersman and his colleagues wanted to find out how we perceive and understand the world.
For that, they created an experiment called the “World Is Not what You Think it is” task, which involved watching three different videos of different events.
They found that participants had a higher level of semantic memory when they watched the events in a “real world” context, such as their own home.
But when they viewed them in a simulation, they tended to believe they were viewing a simulated event.
The researchers said that this could be because they had a greater ability to recall information in real life than in simulations.
But Biermann said that they weren’t aware of this at the time.
“When you look at reality, you don’t think about your actions, you just think about what you know, or what you want,” he said.
“What you’re really interested in is what you’re seeing.”
The scientists then examined participants’ beliefs about the real and imagined world, and found that people’s beliefs were not affected by whether they had the surgery or not.
But they did find that people who believed in a virtual reality world had significantly lower semantic memory, which was consistent with the notion that we’re more “aware of what’s out there,” Biersmann said.
This research has implications for how we view the world because it helps us understand how our minds function.
“The idea is that when we see the world in a very vivid way, we’re less likely to think in terms of what we’ve seen and what was happening,” he explained.
“This might explain why people feel more connected to reality when they’re in a VR environment.”
The study was published online in the journal Science.
For more information on the study, visit: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/327/6194/1483.full