The dominance of the visual

In D. Stokes, M. Matthen & S. Biggs (eds.), Perception and its Modalities. Oxford University Press (2014)
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Vision often dominates other perceptual modalities both at the level of experience and at the level of judgment. In the well-known McGurk effect, for example, one’s auditory experience is consistent with the visual stimuli but not the auditory stimuli, and naïve subjects’ judgments follow their experience. Structurally similar effects occur for other modalities (e.g. rubber hand illusions). Given the robustness of this visual dominance, one might not be surprised that visual imagery often dominates imagery in other modalities. One might be surprised, however, that visual imagery often dominates perception in other modalities. This more controversial claim is motivated both by empirical data and by introspection. Some think of perception-perception visual dominance as epistemically good, holding that cases in which visual dominance misleads us (e.g. McGurk and rubber hand illusions) are cases in which the perceptual system resolves conflicts according to principles that are generally reliable. Here, we explore support for the more controversial claim that imagery-perception visual dominance is epistemically good. We suggest that, when the task is richly spatial, requiring for optimal performance the all-at-once identification of macro-spatial and allocentric properties (e.g. identifying the shape or location of a felt or heard object), the visual, whether perception or imagination, should dominate other modalities. Put another way, when identifying objects, one should go and look or, short of that, visually imagine candidate objects, and then follow the visual, even against conflicting perceptions from other modalities. For this broadly-typed category of of cognitive-perceptual task, vision does dominate and it should.

Author Profiles

Stephen Biggs
Iowa State University
Dustin Stokes
University of Utah


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