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Woon Ju Park, Sang Chul Chong; Mental representation of compositions in paintings is based on their perceptual similarities. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):1137. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/11.11.1137.
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Recent studies have found that art works and human vision share some basic characteristics, such as statistical regularities (Graham & Field, 2007), motion (Kim & Blake, 2007), and lightness perception (Cavanagh, 2005). Perception of spatial relations is another important visual ability that artists have long been employed in their art works as composition. We investigated whether people utilize compositional information when they see paintings and if compositions are, indeed, mentally represented. In order to see whether people make use of the compositional information, Experiment 1 tested the hypothesis that paintings with similar compositions would interfere with target detection in a rapid serial visual presentation paradigm. The stimuli were 495 Renaissance paintings classified in advance into 6 different compositions based on experts' ratings. We found that target detection performance significantly decreased when the composition of the target image was consistent with the distracters compared to when they were inconsistent, suggesting the interference by the similar compositional information. Experiment 2 was conducted to examine whether paintings were mentally represented according to their compositions. If the interference effects found in Experiment 1 were due to representation of compositions, paintings with perceptually similar compositions should be closely placed in mental space. Participants learned to associate arbitrary numbers assigned to 30 paintings. The frequency of errors was measured to construct confusion matrices, which were then analyzed through multidimensional scaling. As expected, the paintings with the same composition were grouped together with significantly shorter psychological distances in a two-dimensional space. These results suggest that compositions in paintings are utilized and represented according to their perceived similarities. Our research supports the view that artists’ creation of visual works is based on their active exploration of how we see the world, and provides a possible link between human vision and aesthetic preference.
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