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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Rethinking visual scene perception

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Abstract A classic puzzle in understanding visual scene perception is how to reconcile the physiological constraints of vision with the phenomenology of seeing. Vision captures information via discrete eye fixations, interrupted by saccadic suppression, and limited by retinal inhomogeneity. Yet scenes are effortlessly perceived as coherent, continuous, and meaningful. Two conceptualizations of scene representation will be contrasted. The traditional visual‐cognitive model casts visual scene representation as an imperfect reflection of the visual sensory input alone. By contrast, a new multisource model casts visual scene representation in terms of an egocentric spatial framework that is ‘filled‐in’ by visual sensory input, but also by amodal perception, and by expectations and by constraints derived from rapid‐scene classification and object‐to‐context associations. Together, these nonvisual sources serve to ‘simulate’ a likely surrounding scene that the visual input only partially reveals. Pros and cons of these alternative views will be discussed. WIREs Cogn Sci 2012, 3:117–127. doi: 10.1002/wcs.149 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics

An illustration of the visual representation of a picture and the associated abstract concepts that classify its content. Artwork by Stevie French.

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Boundary extension in the context of the multisource model: the observer takes the camera's viewpoint (perception panel), in this case located in the center of the alley. With egocentric space as the organizing structure, visual sensory input, amodal perception beyond the boundaries of the photograph, conceptual knowledge and object‐to‐context expectations provide a multisource representation—including, in this case, the expectation of a fence behind the camera. When the stimulus is gone (memory panel), the observer misclassifies memory for the highly constrained amodal continuation just beyond the original boundaries as visual memory, thus causing boundary extension. Artwork by Stevie French.

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Boundary extension in the context of the visual‐cognitive model: while the picture is available (perception panel), visual input is the only source of scene representation. This representation is rapidly associated with relevant abstract concepts (shown in verbal form in this illustration). When the stimulus is removed (memory panel), the observer remembers having seen more beyond the edges of the view. Artwork by Stevie French.

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The filtered picture on the left is interpreted as a ‘street scene’ based on the picture's spatial layout; the picture on the right is the unfiltered version and shows that rather than buildings, the central part of the picture is actually part of a kitchen scene (cabinets and counters). (Reprinted with permission from Ref 58. Copyright 2006 Elsevier)

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