How Your Brain Gaslights You—for Your Own Good – Facts So Romantic

Nailia Schwarz via Shutterstock

Runners can tell you that sometimes the last mile of a run seems to feel dramatically longer than the first. This perceptual distortion isn’t limited to brains addled by exercise—it’s a consistent feature of our minds.  

When we look at the world, it certainly feels like we’re seeing things as they really are, our senses measuring reality in an objective way. But numerous experiments have shown that the way we see the world is influenced by what we can do with it.

This way of thinking was pioneered by psychologist James Gibson, who came up with the idea of “affordances”: A ball affords picking up, and a hallway affords walking along it. When we look at a button, we perceive the affordance of pressing it. These are not optical illusions, as such, but changes in how we see the world according to what we want and can do. Here are some fascinating examples.

The perceived height of a balcony is increased if you are afraid of falling. Hills look steeper if you’re elderly, tired, or wearing a heavy backpack (pdf); they look less steep after you consume a high-calorie drink. Because descending a hill…
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