Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Social perception in the real world : employing visual adaptation paradigms in the investigation of mechanisms underlying emotion and trustworthiness perception

Wincenciak, Joanna


Joanna Wincenciak


Nick Barraclough


Social context can substantially influence our perception and understanding of emotion and action of observed individuals. However, less is known about how temporal context can affect our judgement of behaviour of other people. The aim of this thesis was to explore how immediate perceptual history influences social perception. Further aims were: (i) to examine whether prior visual experience influences the perception of behaviour of other individuals in a naturalistic virtual environment resembling the real world; (ii) to determine whether our judgement of emotional state or trustworthiness of observed individuals is influenced by perceptual history, and (iii) by cognitive processes such as mental state attribution to the observer; (iv) to investigate whether processing of emotion information from dynamic, whole-body action is dependent on the processing of body identity, and (v) dependent on the body part that conveys it. Here, visual adaptation paradigms were used to examine systematic biases in social perception following prior visual experience, and to infer potential neural mechanisms underlying social perception. The results presented in this thesis suggest that perception and understanding of behaviour of other individuals in the naturalistic virtual environment are influenced by the behaviour of other individuals within the shared social environment. Specifically, in Chapter 3, I presented data suggesting that visual adaptation mechanisms examined thus far in laboratory settings may influence our everyday perception and judgement of behaviour of other people. In Chapters 4 and 5, I showed that these biases in social perception can be attributed to visual adaptation mechanisms, which code emotions and intentions derived from actions with respect to specific action kinematics and the body part that conveyed the given emotion. The results of experiments presented in Chapter 4 demonstrated that emotions conveyed by actions are represented with respect to, and independently of, actors’ identity. These finding suggest that the mechanisms underlying processing of action emotion may operate in parallel with the mechanisms underlying processing emotion from other social signals such as face and voice. In Chapter 6, I showed that cognitive processes underlying Theory of Mind, such as mental state attribution, can also influence perceptual processing of emotional signals. Finally, results presented in Chapter 7 suggest that judgments of complex social traits such as trustworthiness derived from faces are also influenced by perceptual history. These results also yielded strong sex differences in assessing trustworthiness of an observed individual; female observers showed a strong bias in perception resulting from adaptation to (un)trustworthiness, while male observers were less influenced by prior visual context. Together these findings suggest that social perception in the real world may be sensitive not only to the social context in which an observed act is embedded, but also to the prior visual context and the observer’s beliefs regarding the observed individual. Visual adaptation mechanisms may therefore operate during our everyday perception, in order to adjust our visual system to allow for efficient and accurate judgement of socially meaningful stimuli. The findings presented in this thesis highlight the importance of studying social perception using naturalistic stimuli embedded in a meaningful social scene, in order to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that underlie our judgement of behaviour of other people. They also demonstrate the utility of visual adaptation paradigms in studying social perception and social cognition.


Wincenciak, J. (2014). Social perception in the real world : employing visual adaptation paradigms in the investigation of mechanisms underlying emotion and trustworthiness perception. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Dec 14, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Psychology
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Psychology, The University of Hull
Award Date Oct 1, 2014


Thesis (4 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2014 Wincenciak, Joanna. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations