Pictures in mind: Initial encoding of object properties varies with the realism of the scene stimulus

  • Tatler B
  • Melcher D
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A fundamental question in perception is how we visually encode and retain information about a complex scene in order to allow effective operation within it. Interestingly, the stimuli used to investigate scene perception have varied greatly between studies, ranging from line drawings to coloured drawings, computer-generated scenes, photographs, and real scenes. Are findings from these different types of scene stimulus equally ecologically valid? Two experiments are reported that address this issue. In the first we compared photographic and non-photographic scenes and found that observers perform better in questions testing object memory when viewing photographs, suggesting an initial benefit for encoding information from photographs. In the second we found that whether or not non-photographic scenes obeyed realistic scene-organising properties influenced object-memory formation. Effects varied for the different question types, but again were most prominent early in viewing. We conclude that in the search for an understanding of everyday scene perception we must be very careful in our choice of scene stimuli and in our interpretation of findings from the laboratory.

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