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Context is King illustration: the capital letters A, B and C are handwritten in sequence on the top row. On the bottom row, it's the numbers 12, 13 and 14 - again handwritten. When you look closely, you notice that the letter B and the number 13 take exactly the same form. It is only the characters that come before and after in each sequence that define them.

Context is king

It's been called the expectation effect. Is it a B or a 13? It appears that how we see depends on the context and what we expect to see.

This neat example is from a 1955 experiment by Jerome Bruner and A. Leigh Minturn. One of the findings, other than people seamlessly identifying a B or 13 when surrounded appropriately by letters or numbers, was that when asked to draw what they saw "as is" participants were more inclined to draw a closed or partially closed B when it was surrounded by letters. What participants expected to see appeared to affect what they did see.

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