The role of expectancies in the size-weight illusion: A review of theoretical and empirical arguments and a new explanation

A.J.M. Dijker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The size-weight illusion (SWI) refers to the phenomenon that objects that are objectively equal in weight but different in size or volume are perceived to differ in weight, such that smaller objects feel heavier than larger ones. This article reviews studies trying to support three different viewpoints with respect to the role of expectancies in causing the SWI. The first viewpoint argues for a crucial role; the second admits a role, yet without seeing consequences for sensorimotor processes; and the third denies any causal role for expectancies at all. A new explanation of the SWI is proposed that can integrate the different arguments. A distinctive feature of the new explanation is that it recognizes the causal influence of expectancies, yet combines this with certain reactive and direct behavioral consequences of perceiving size differences that are independent of experience-based expectancies, and that normally result in the adaptive application of forces to lift or handle differently sized objects. The new account explains why the illusion is associated with the repeated generation of inappropriate lifting forces (which can, however, be modified through extensive training), as well as why it depends on continuous visual exposure to size cues, appears at an early age, and is cognitively impenetrable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1404-1414
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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