Size Matters: A Single Representation Underlies Our Perceptions of Heaviness in the Size-Weight Illusion Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • In the size-weight illusion (SWI), a small object feels heavier than an equally-weighted larger object. It is thought that this illusion is a consequence of the way that we internally represent objects' properties--lifters expect one object to outweigh the other, and the subsequent illusion reflects a contrast with their expectations. Similar internal representations are also thought to guide the application of fingertip forces when we grip and lift objects. To determine the nature of the representations underpinning how we lift objects and perceive their weights, we examined weight judgments in addition to the dynamics and magnitudes of the fingertip forces when individuals lifted small and large exemplars of metal and polystyrene cubes, all of which had been adjusted to have exactly the same mass. Prior to starting the experiment, subjects expected the density of the metal cubes to be higher than that of the polystyrene cubes. Their illusions, however, did not reflect their conscious expectations of heaviness; instead subjects experienced a SWI of the same magnitude regardless of the cubes' material. Nevertheless, they did report that the polystyrene cubes felt heavier than the metal ones (i.e. they experienced a material-weight illusion). Subjects persisted in lifting the large metal cube with more force than the small metal cube, but lifted the large polystyrene cube with roughly the same amount of force that they used to lift the small polystyrene cube. These findings suggest that our perceptual and sensorimotor representations are not only functionally independent from one another, but that the perceptual system represents a more single, simple size-weight relationship which appears to drive the SWI itself.

publication date

  • 2013