Flowers in the Attic: Lateralization of the detection of meaning in visual noise

Simon J. Cropper, Ashlan McCauley, O. Scott Gwinn, Megan Bartlett, Michael E.R. Nicholls

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The brain is a slave to sense; we see and hear things that are not there and engage in ongoing correction of these illusory experiences, commonly termed pareidolia. The current study investigates whether the predisposition to see meaning in noise is lateralized to one hemisphere or the other and how this predisposition to visual false-alarms is related to personality. Stimuli consisted of images of faces or flowers embedded in pink (1/f) noise generated through a novel process and presented in a divided-field paradigm. Right-handed undergraduates participated in a forced-choice signal-detection task where they determined whether a face or flower signal was present in a single-interval trial. Experiment 1 involved an equal ratio of signal-to-noise trials; experiment 2 provided more potential for illusionary perception with 25% signal and 75% noise trials. There was no asymmetry in the ability to discriminate signal from noise trials (measured using d') for either faces and flowers, although the response criterion (c) suggested a stronger predisposition to visual false alarms in the right visual field, and this was negatively correlated to the unusual experiences dimension of schizotypy. Counter to expectations, changing the signal-image to noise-image proportion in Experiment 2 did not change the number of false alarms for either faces and flowers, although a stronger bias was seen to the right visual field; sensitivity remained the same in both hemifields but there was a moderate positive correlation between cognitive disorganization and the bias (c) for "flower" judgements. Overall, these results were consistent with a rapid evidence-accumulation process of the kind described by a diffusion decision model mediating the task lateralized to the left-hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • vision
  • pareidolia
  • noise
  • signal detection theory
  • lateralization
  • Diffusion Decision model
  • psychophysics


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