8 March 2017



The bulk of my reading and discussion to date has been to do with the processes of perception – of how we distinguish people from things, and how we interpret information about what those people are feeling or thinking. I’ve been struck how the research indicates how well these processes deal with gaps in that information – seeing and interpreting agency, action and emotion from often very sparse stimuli. This is something that we often exploit as puppet designers by simply leaving out whole parts of the puppet’s body (like here and here)

One of my original questions and provocations was to do with something else – what happens when aspects of the information are in conflict with one another?

In my example the most prevalent conflict is between the apparent agency of a character and its status as an object (say, in the case of an animated stick). Does anyone know who researches this kind of situation or phenomenon – or any papers on it? I think an understanding of how we resolve these perceptual conflicts would be very useful to me. Answers on a postcard. (or in the comments below)



How do we know about attention? In a way, my main premise is about quality of attention – that the audience watch puppets differently from the way they watch actors. My first thought had been that it might be the perceptual cues, absences and mismatches (like the conflicts above) that prompt a difference of attention. But it may also be the case that the novel nature of the puppet’s form prompts a shift in attention, regardless of the quality of the movement or how well it stimulates ‘agent recognition’ systems. I’m not sure what I mean by this, and yet I can feel the subtle gear change when I go from watching actors to watching puppets or animated characters. How might we measure or assess this?



The other big question is about the impact of the context . We know that we are watching a play, we know that it is appropriate here for characters to be represented in narrative – and this predicts our response to the animation of the puppet. I come across references to how knowledge cues influence animacy perception. Cross et al (2015) reference fMRI studies from 2001 and 2002 showing that participants who believe that an action is being executed by a human (rather than a program, robot or AI) show increased responses in social brain regions. This suggests that the presence of the puppeteer (or the knowledge that the puppeteer is there) is enormously important to how we interpret the movement of the puppet (as opposed to, say a robot with a limited, programmed set of responses). The audience know that the puppet’s responses are being selected by a human. Part of the act of belief in the puppet character’s agency is tied in absolutely with keeping in mind that it is a puppet under human control.



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