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Marnix Naber, Maximilian Hilger, Wolfgang Einhäuser; Animal detection and identification in natural scenes: Image statistics and emotional valence. Journal of Vision 2012;12(1):25. doi: 10.1167/12.1.25.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Humans process natural scenes rapidly and accurately. Low-level image features and emotional valence affect such processing but have mostly been studied in isolation. At which processing stage these factors operate and how they interact has remained largely unaddressed. Here, we briefly presented natural images and asked observers to report the presence or absence of an animal (detection), species of the detected animal (identification), and their confidence. In a second experiment, the same observers rated images with respect to their emotional affect and estimated their anxiety when imagining a real-life encounter with the depicted animal. We found that detection and identification improved with increasing image luminance, background contrast, animal saturation, and luminance plus color contrast between target and background. Surprisingly, animals associated with lower anxiety were detected faster and identified with higher confidence, and emotional affect was a better predictor of performance than anxiety. Pupil size correlated with detection, identification, and emotional valence judgments at different time points after image presentation. Remarkably, images of threatening animals induced smaller pupil sizes, and observers with higher mean anxiety ratings had smaller pupils on average. In sum, rapid visual processing depends on contrasts between target and background features rather than overall visual context, is negatively affected by anxiety, and finds its processing stages differentially reflected in the pupillary response.
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