Affect From Mere Perception: Illusory Contour Perception Feels Good

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Can affect be evoked by mere perception? Earlier work on processing fluency, which manipulated the dynamics of a running perceptual process, has shown that efficient processing can indeed trigger positive affect. The present work introduces a novel route by not manipulating the dynamics of an ongoing perceptual process, but by blocking or allowing the whole process in the first place. We used illusory contour perception as one very basic such process. In 5 experiments (total N = 422), participants briefly (≤100 ms) viewed stimuli that either allowed illusory contour perception, so-called Kanizsa shapes, or proximally identical control shapes that did not allow for this process to occur. Self-reported preference ratings (Experiments 1, 2, and 4) and facial muscle activity (Experiment 3) showed that participants consistently preferred Kanizsa over these control shapes. Moreover, even within Kanizsa shapes, those that most likely instigated illusory contour perception (i.e., those with the highest support ratio) were liked the most (Experiment 5). At the same time, Kanizsa stimuli with high support ratios were objectively and subjectively the most complex, rendering a processing fluency explanation of this preference unlikely. These findings inform theorizing in perception about affective properties of early perceptual processes that are independent from perceptual fluency and research on affect about the importance of basic perception as a source of affectivity.

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