Container size exerts a stronger influence than liquid volume on the perceived weight of objects Academic Article uri icon


  • Many features of an object can influence how we predict and perceive its weight. The current study evaluated the relative contributions of sensory and conceptual processing of object features on weight perception. We employed a novel paradigm to investigate how container size and the amount of liquid inside can influence the perceived weight of bottles and the forces deployed when lifting them. Stimulus pairs always had the same mass but could vary in liquid volume (full vs half-full bottle) or size (large vs small bottle; size-weight illusion (SWI)). In Experiment 1, participants lifted the stimuli via strings, which served to isolate the influence of visual from kinaesthetic information about the size of stimuli on perception and lifting behaviour. In Experiment 2, participants lifted the stimuli via handles that were attached directly to the objects. This lifting style is more likely to include deviations from true vertical lifting, which should theoretically provide more kinaesthetic information about the size of the stimuli. Experiment 1 did not produce any weight illusion. Experiment 2 produced a weight illusion but only when container size differed. Thus, liquid volume did not influence perceived weight when container size was held constant in either experiment. Curiously, additional control experiments revealed that participants could not discriminate between the different sized bottles solely from the kinaesthetic information received from a handle-based lift, suggesting that size might be processed differently when making explicit perceptual judgements about it than when influencing weight perception. Together, these findings suggest that weight illusions are driven more strongly by the kinaesthetic processing of stimulus features than predictions arising from conceptual weight cues.

publication date

  • 2019