Looking (again) at Medusa: Evidence that pictorial abstraction influences mind perception

ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Alan Kingstone and 1 anonymous reviewer
A recommendation of:

The Medusa effect: A registered replication report of Will, Merritt, Jenkins, and Kingstone (2021)

Submission: posted 24 October 2023
Recommendation: posted 23 November 2023, validated 23 November 2023
Cite this recommendation as:
Chambers, C. (2023) Looking (again) at Medusa: Evidence that pictorial abstraction influences mind perception. Peer Community in Registered Reports, 100583. 10.24072/pci.rr.100583

This is a stage 2 based on:


The Medusa effect is a recently described phenomenon in which people judge a person to be more mindful when they appear as a picture (termed L1) than as a picture within a picture (L2). Across a series of experiments, Will et al. (2021) reported that at higher levels of abstraction, images of people were judged lower in realness (how real the person seemed), experience (the ability to feel) and agency (the ability to plan and act), and also benefited less from prosocial behaviour. The findings provide an intriguing window into mind perception – the extent to which we attribute minds and mental capacities to others.
In the current study, Han et al. (2023) undertook a close replication of two experiments from the original report by Will et al. (2021), asking first, whether the level of pictorial abstraction influences ratings of realness, agency and experience, and second, whether it also influences prosocial behaviour as measured in the dictator game (with participants predicted to allocate more money to recipients presented as pictures than as pictures within pictures). In the event of a non-replication using the original materials, the authors planned to further repeat the experiments using newly generated stimuli that are better matched for cultural context and more tightly controlled along various dimensions.
Results supported all pre-registered hypotheses. Participants rated and perceived L1 stimuli as having significantly higher levels of realness, agency, and experience than L2, and they also allocated significantly more money to L1 recipients than L2 recipients in a dictator game. Furthermore, participants who judged L1 as higher than L2 on all three dimensions also differentiated significantly between L1 and L2 in the dictator game, indicating a relationship between mind perception and prosociality. Overall, the findings confirm that pictures with lower levels of abstraction are perceived as more mindful and are associated with higher levels of prosocial behavior. Consequently, the results suggest that the Medusa effect is a reproducible phenomenon.
The Stage 2 manuscript was evaluated over one round of in-depth review. Based on detailed responses to the reviewers' comments, the recommender judged that the manuscript met the Stage 2 criteria and awarded a positive recommendation.
URL to the preregistered Stage 1 protocol:
Level of bias control achieved: Level 6. No part of the data or evidence that was used to answer the research question was generated until after IPA. 
List of eligible PCI RR-friendly journals:
1. Will, P., Merritt, E., Jenkins, R., & Kingstone, A. (2021). The Medusa effect reveals levels of mind perception in pictures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(32), e2106640118.
2. Han, J., Zhang, M., Liu, J., Song, Y. & Yamada, Y. (2023).The Medusa effect: A registered replication report of Will, Merritt, Jenkins, and Kingstone (2021). Acceptance of Version 2 by Peer Community in Registered Reports.
Conflict of interest:
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article.

Evaluation round #1

DOI or URL of the report:

Version of the report: 1

Author's Reply, 21 Nov 2023

Decision by ORCID_LOGO, posted 20 Nov 2023, validated 20 Nov 2023

Two of the reviewers from Stage 1 kindly returned to evaluate your Stage 2 manuscript and both are very positive about the completed work. As you will see, one of the reviewers (Alan Kingstone) offers some comments on the Introduction. To minimise risk of hindsight bias there are strict limits on the extent to which the introduction section of a Stage 2 submission can be altered. In revising to address the reviewer's comments, please therefore limit any changes to those necessary to (a) correct factual errors or (b) make crucial clarifications that would otherwise lead to readers being misled. Please refrain from shortening any sections or making other stylistic changes, as the opportunity to make such modifications to the introduction was at Stage 1.

I would also suggest one additional revision (not suggested by the reviewers): in the study design table (pp28-30), it would be helpful to add a column to the far right called "Outcome" which reports in simple terms whether each hypothesis was confirmed or disconfirmed. Please also give this table a title and caption. (e.g. Table [N]. Study Design and Outcomes).

Once you have resubmitted, I will issue a final Stage 2 recommendation. Please note that PCI RR is entering its annual shutdown period from 1 Dec - 10 Jan, so if you want to receive a final recommendationn decision this year, you will need to resubmit before 1 Dec.

Reviewed by anonymous reviewer 1, 06 Nov 2023

The authors have done a great job conducting the planned experiments as reported in the previous version of this work. All experiments and results are reported with precision and sufficient details. I am happy with this new, updated, paper, and I can therefore suggest its acceptance in the current form.

Reviewed by , 11 Nov 2023

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