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J Vis. 2002;2(4):324-53.

Ecological statistics of Gestalt laws for the perceptual organization of contours.

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Centre for Vision Research, York University, Toronto, Canada.


Although numerous studies have measured the strength of visual grouping cues for controlled psychophysical stimuli, little is known about the statistical utility of these various cues for natural images. In this study, we conducted experiments in which human participants trace perceived contours in natural images. These contours are automatically mapped to sequences of discrete tangent elements detected in the image. By examining relational properties between pairs of successive tangents on these traced curves, and between randomly selected pairs of tangents, we are able to estimate the likelihood distributions required to construct an optimal Bayesian model for contour grouping. We employed this novel methodology to investigate the inferential power of three classical Gestalt cues for contour grouping: proximity, good continuation, and luminance similarity. The study yielded a number of important results: (1) these cues, when appropriately defined, are approximately uncorrelated, suggesting a simple factorial model for statistical inference; (2) moderate image-to-image variation of the statistics indicates the utility of general probabilistic models for perceptual organization; (3) these cues differ greatly in their inferential power, proximity being by far the most powerful; and (4) statistical modeling of the proximity cue indicates a scale-invariant power law in close agreement with prior psychophysics.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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