The effect of perceptual history on the interpretation of causality

Michele Deodato, David Melcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to interpret spatiotemporal contingencies in terms of causal relationships plays a key role in human understanding of the external world. Indeed, the detection of such simple properties enables us to attribute causal attributes to interactions between objects. Here, we investigated the degree to which this perception of causality depends on recent experience, as has been found for other low-level properties of visual stimuli. Participants were shown launching sequences of colliding circles with varying collision lags and were asked to report their impression of causality. We found short-term attractive and long-term repulsive and attractive effects of perceptual history on the interpretation of causality. Stimuli directly following a causal impression were more likely to be judged as causal and vice versa. However, prior judgments on less recent (>5) trials biased current perception with both positive/attractive and negative/repulsive influences. We interpret these results in terms of two potential mechanisms: adaptive temporal binding windows and updating of internal representations of causality. Overall, these results demonstrate the important role of prior experience even for causality, a fundamental building block of how we understand our world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • Causality
  • Perceptual history
  • Serial dependence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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