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The aesthetic experience of 'contour binding'

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

To find the diagnostic spatial frequency information in different painting styles (cubism, impressionism and realism), we have compared sensitivity (d′) in distinguishing signal (subject of the painting) from noise with normal, high-pass and low-pass filtered images at long (150 ms) and short (30 ms) exposure.

We found that for cubist-style images, d′ increases with high-pass filtering compared with normal and low-pass filtered images, but decreases with low-pass filtering compared with normal images. These results indicate that channels with high spatial resolution provide the diagnostic information to solve the binding problem.

Sensitivity for images in impressionist style was instead reduced by both low- and high-pass filtering. This indicates that both high and low spatial frequency channels play a role in solving the binding problem, suggesting the involvement of large collator units that group the response of small channels tuned to the same orientation.

The difference between realism, which shows higher sensitivity for low-frequency filtering at short durations and cubism in which the binding problem is solved by high spatial frequency channels, has a corresponding difference in aesthetic judgment: the probability of judging a painting as 'intriguing' is larger with low-pass filtering than with high-pass filtering in realism, while the opposite is true for cubism. This suggests that the aesthetic experience is available during early processing of an image, and could preferentially influence high-level categorization of the subject of a painting.

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Psicologia Generale, University of Padova, Via Venezia 8, Italy


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