Fearful Object Seeing

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 13 (3):627-644 (2021)
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What is it like to perceive a feared object? According to a popular neo-Gibsonian theory in psychology, fear biases our perceptions of objects so as to encourage particular kinds of actions: when we are afraid, spiders may be perceived as physically closer than they are in order to promote fleeing. Firestone mounted severe criticisms against this view, arguing that these cases are better explained by non-perceptual biases that operate on accurate perceptions of the external environment. In this paper I will argue that fear might indeed distort our perceptions of the world, but not in the way neo-Gibsonians suppose. In the view I favor, perceptual distortions occur as by-products of fearful attention, a special mode of attention that is part of an orchestrated defensive response that prepares the organism to deal effectively with a threat. To argue for this view I will rely on empirical evidence that fearful attention narrows down the focus of attention and favors processing of local rather than global features of stimuli, which may jointly explain why perceptual distortions might occur in fearful object seeing. This view has consequences not only for empirical investigations in fearful perceptual distortions, but also for an explanation of the intentionality of fear and the phenomenal integration of bodily and intentional elements in fear episodes.

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Felipe Nogueira de Carvalho
Federal University of Lavras


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