McDowell, Suchow, and Haberman, VSS abstract, 2017

A preference for flipped depictions of self

Malerie G. McDowell, Jordan W. Suchow, & Jason M. Haberman

Because the eyes point outward, visual experience of our own face is mediated by depictions and reflections, which are unlike what others see — a mirror reflects the image, and a depiction transforms it. Does this altered experience affect perceptions and judgments about our appearance? Here, we asked observers (N = 18) to view their likeness in photographs that were flipped (as when viewed in a mirror) or not flipped (as when viewed in a depiction). Observers also adapted (or not) to the flipped or unflipped photographs in a 2 × 2 design: 1) flipped; 2) unflipped; 3) adapt to flipped for 60 seconds then view unflipped image; 4) adapt to unflipped image for 60 seconds then view the flipped image. Photographs of each observer were taken before the experiment. Observers rated (on a scale of 1-7) how much each image looked like them and how much they liked the image. Each observer was run in each condition three times in random order. One-way repeated-measures ANOVAs revealed a significant preference for the flipped image (as in a mirror) compared to the unflipped image (as in a depiction) for both questions. This effect was exaggerated for the condition in which observers first adapted to the unflipped image before viewing the flipped image. These results are likely driven by a strong, albeit malleable, representation of self, one created by most commonly viewing ourselves in a mirror, with unflipped images being perceived more ‘unlike’ one’s self and less pleasant than a flipped image because it exposes asymmetries with which the viewer is unfamiliar.