See what you want to see: motivational influences on visual perception

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2006 Oct;91(4):612-25. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.4.612.


People's motivational states--their wishes and preferences--influence their processing of visual stimuli. In 5 studies, participants shown an ambiguous figure (e.g., one that could be seen either as the letter B or the number 13) tended to report seeing the interpretation that assigned them to outcomes they favored. This finding was affirmed by unobtrusive and implicit measures of perception (e.g., eye tracking, lexical decision tasks) and by experimental procedures demonstrating that participants were aware only of the single (usually favored) interpretation they saw at the time they viewed the stimulus. These studies suggest that the impact of motivation on information processing extends down into preconscious processing of stimuli in the visual environment and thus guides what the visual system presents to conscious awareness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Environment
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Visual Fields
  • Visual Perception*