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Shape from shadows.

Author information

Département de Psychologie, Université de Montréal, Québec, Canada.

Erratum in

  • J Exp Psychol Hum Percept 1990 Nov;16(4):910.


The colors, textures, and shapes of shadows are physically constrained in several ways in natural scenes. The visual system appears to ignore these constraints, however, and to accept many patterns as shadows even though they could not occur naturally. In the stimuli that we have studied, the only requirements for the perception of depth due to shadows were that shadow regions be darker than the surrounding, nonshadow regions and that there be consistent contrast polarity along the shadow border. Three-dimensional shape due to shadows was perceived when shadow areas were filled with colors or textures that could not occur in natural scenes, when shadow and nonshadow regions had textures that moved in different directions, or when they were presented on different depth planes. The results suggest that the interpretation of shadows begins with the identification of acceptable shadow borders by a cooperative process that requires consistent contrast polarity across a range of scales at each point along the border. Finally, we discuss how the identification of a shadow region can help the visual system to patch together areas that are separated by shadow boundaries, to identify directions of surface curvature, and to select a preferred three-dimensional interpretation while rejecting others.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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