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Tall towers: Schemas and illusions when perceiving and remembering a familiar building

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Tall towers: Schemas and illusions when perceiving and remembering a familiar building


Dillon H. Murphy, Alan D. Castel



We investigated how schemas can bias both memory and perception of a frequently seen building leading to a horizontal-vertical illusion. Specifically, undergraduate students (n = 172) were asked to estimate and sketch the dimensions of a highly familiar campus building to determine if they misremember or misperceive the building's features. Despite its cubic dimensions, participants frequently overestimated the building's height to width ratio, both on sketches and estimates, as they were likely biased by the horizontal-vertical illusion and the schema that buildings are often taller than wider. This occurred regardless of whether participants sketched and estimated from memory or completed these tasks while perceiving the building. Additionally, participants were often unable to correctly identify the building's outline on a recognition test, even while looking at it. These results demonstrate that both perceptual and memory accuracy can be impacted by schematic biases and cognitive illusions.












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