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Cogn Psychol. 1991 Jul;23(3):393-419.

Priming contour-deleted images: evidence for intermediate representations in visual object recognition.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 55455.


The speed and accuracy of perceptual recognition of a briefly presented picture of an object is facilitated by its prior presentation. Picture priming tasks were used to assess whether the facilitation is a function of the repetition of: (a) the object's image features (viz., vertices and edges), (b) the object model (e.g., that it is a grand piano), or (c) a representation intermediate between (a) and (b) consisting of convex or singly concave components of the object, roughly corresponding to the object's parts. Subjects viewed pictures with half their contour removed by deleting either (a) every other image feature from each part, or (b) half the components. On a second (primed) block of trials, subjects saw: (a) the identical image that they viewed on the first block, (b) the complement which had the missing contours, or (c) a same name-different exemplar of the object class (e.g., a grand piano when an upright piano had been shown on the first block). With deletion of features, speed and accuracy of naming identical and complementary images were equivalent, indicating that none of the priming could be attributed to the features actually present in the image. Performance with both types of image enjoyed an advantage over that with the different exemplars, establishing that the priming was visual rather than verbal or conceptual. With deletion of the components, performance with identical images was much better than that with their complements. The latter were equivalent to the different exemplars, indicating that all the visual priming of an image of an object is through the activation of a representation of its components in specified relations. In terms of a recent neural net implementation of object recognition (Hummel & Biederman, in press), the results suggest that the locus of object priming may be at changes in the weight matrix for a geon assembly layer, where units have self-organized to represent combinations of convex or singly concave components (or geons) and their attributes (e.g., aspect ratio, orientation, and relations with other geons such as TOP-OF). The results of these experiments provide evidence for the psychological reality of intermediate representations in real-time visual object recognition.

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