Age biases the judgment rather than the perception of an ambiguous figure

B Ambroos, X Jin, AH Waldi, Steven Verheyen

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Older participants who are briefly presented with the ‘my wife/mother-in-law’ ambiguous figure estimate its age to be higher than young participants do. This finding is thought to be the result of a subconscious social group bias that influences participants’ perception of the figure. Because people are better able to recognize similarly aged individuals, young participants are expected to perceive the ambiguous figure as a young woman, while older participants are more likely to recognize an older lady. We replicate the difference in age estimates, but find no relationship between participants’ age and their perception of the ambiguous figure. This leads us to conclude that the positive relationship between participants’ age and their age estimates of the ambiguous ‘my wife/mother-in-law’ figure is better explained by the own-age anchor effect, which holds that people use their own age as a yard stick to judge the age of the figure, regardless of whether the young woman or the older lady is perceived. Our results disqualify the original finding as an example of cognitive penetrability: the participants’ age biases their judgment of the ambiguous figure, not its perception.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8627
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge the support of the Erasmus Open Access Fund. They thank Michael N. Nicholls for sharing materials and Rene Zeelenberg for helpful comments on an earlier version. Special thanks goes to Yi-Chia Chen, who provided a review that allowed us to considerably improve the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


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