Plus there's the fact that the human brain is set up to comprehend things by forming an image of A acting on B, rather than of some abstract action by abstract agents taking place in the ether. So a reader would have to do considerably less processing to comprehend this paragraph in active voice.
I don't disagree that this particular example could be improved as you say, but your generalization from that seems suspect.
You may be confusing multiple arguments, because I did not generalize from this example to my statement about psychology. I got the generalization from a technical writing class so long ago I can't remember, taught by a technical communications researcher. From that, I specialized to criticism of this particular sentence.
It's entirely dependent on whether the agent or the patient is the point of interest. ... it's possible that familiarity has some effect on the brain's ability to comprehend
I don't see the connection. It doesn't seem to matter whether you're focusing on A or B in the proposition that it's easier to comprehend A acting on B than the abstract action. (E.g. John throwing a ball as opposed to the abstract concept of the throwing of a ball).
But I admit it is possible to write passive voice which actually does describe A acting on B ("the ball was thrown by John"), even though often the very reason the writer used passive voice was to avoid identifying the agent. Where the agent is so exposed, the only thing left to argue about is whether the brain starts processing "thrown" before integrating John into the picture. And that might depend upon familiarity with the syntax.
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