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J Exp Psychol Gen. 1980 Sep;109(3):354-71.

Mental imagery and the third dimension.

Abstract

What sort of medium underlies imagery for three-dimensional scenes? In the present investigation, the time subjects took to scan between objects in a mental image was used to infer the sorts of geometric information that images preserve. Subjects studied an open box in which five objects were suspended, and learned to imagine this display with their eyes closed. In the first experiment, subjects scanned by tracking an imaginary point moving in a straight line between the imagined objects. Scanning times increased linearly with increasing distance between objects in three dimensions. Therefore metric 3-D information must be preserved in images, and images cannot simply be 2-D "snapshots." In a second experiment, subjects scanned across the image by "sighting" objects through an imaginary rifle sight. Here scanning times were found to increase linearly with the two-dimensional separations between objects as they appeared from the original viewing angle. Therefore metric 2-D distance information in the original perspective view must be preserved in images, and images cannot simply be 3-D "scale-models" that are assessed from any and all directions at once. In a third experiment, subjects mentally rotated the display 90 degrees and scanned between objects as they appeared in this new perspective view by tracking an imaginary rifle signt, as before. Scanning times increased linearly with the two-dimensional separations between objects as they would appear from the new relative viewing perspective. Therefore images can display metric 2-D distance information in a perspective view never actually experiences, so mental images cannot simply be "snapshot plus scale model" pairs. These results can be explained by a model in which the three-dimensional structure of objects is encoded in long-term memory in 3-D object-centered coordinate systems. When these objects are imagined, this information is then mapped onto a single 2-D "surface display" in which the perspective properties specific to a given viewing angle can be depicted. In a set of perceptual control experiments, subjects scanned a visible display by (a) simply moving their eyes from one object to another, (b) sweeping an imaginary rifle sight over the display, or (c) tracking an imaginary point moving from one object to another. Eye-movement times varied linearly with 2-D interobject distance, as did time to scan with an imaginary rifle sight; time to tract a point varied independently with the 3-D and 2-D interobject distances. These results are compared with the analogous image scanning results to argue that imagery and perception share some representational structures but that mental image scanning is a process distinct from eye movements or eye-movement commands.

PMID:
6447193
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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