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Psychol Res. 1990;52(4):317-29.

Perceptual effects of scene context on object identification.

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Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, University of Leuven, Belgium.


In a number of studies the context provided by a real-world scene has been claimed to have a mandatory, perceptual effect on the identification of individual objects in such a scene. This claim has provided a basis for challenging widely accepted data-driven models of visual perception in order to advocate alternative models with an outspoken top-down character. The present paper offers a review of the evidence to demonstrate that the observed scene-context effects may be the product of post-perceptual and task-dependent guessing strategies. A new research paradigm providing an on-line measure of genuine perceptual effects of context on object identification is proposed. First-fixation durations for objects incidentally fixated during the free exploration of real-world scenes are shown to increase when the objects are improbable in the scene or violate certain aspects of their typical spatial appearance in it. These effects of contextual violations are shown to emerge only at later stages of scene exploration, contrary to the notion of schema-driven scene perception effective from the very first scene fixation. In addition, evidence is reported in support of the existence of a facilitatory component in scene-context effects. This is taken to indicate that the context directly affects the ease of perceptual object processing and does not merely serve as a framework for checking the plausibility of the output of perceptual processes. Finally, our findings are situated against other contrasting results. Some future research questions are high-lighted.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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