The perceptual homunculus: The perception of the relative proportions of the human body

Sally A. Linkenauger, Hong Yu Wong, Michael Geuss, Jeanine K. Stefanucci, Kathleen C. McCulloch, Heinrich H. Bülthoff, Betty J. Mohler, Dennis R. Proffitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Given that observing one's body is ubiquitous in experience, it is natural to assume that people accurately perceive the relative sizes of their body parts. This assumption is mistaken. In a series of studies, we show that there are dramatic systematic distortions in the perception of bodily proportions, as assessed by visual estimation tasks, where participants were asked to compare the lengths of two body parts. These distortions are not evident when participants estimate the extent of a body part relative to a noncorporeal object or when asked to estimate noncorporal objects that are the same length as their body parts. Our results reveal a radical asymmetry in the perception of corporeal and noncorporeal relative size estimates. Our findings also suggest that people visually perceive the relative size of their body parts as a function of each part's relative tactile sensitivity and physical size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Psychological Association.


  • Body perception
  • Proprioception
  • Somatosensation
  • Visual perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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