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Richard Yao, Daniel Simons; The Scene Superiority Effect: Discriminating Objects and Instances. Journal of Vision 2011;11(11):835. doi: 10.1167/11.11.835.
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The word superiority effect refers to the phenomenon in which two letters are easier to discriminate when placed within the context of a real word, even when the word is completely non-predictive of which letter appeared. For instance, people can better discriminate “word” from “work” than they can discriminate “d” from “k.” The effect disappears when the letters are placed in a non-word context of random letter strings. We investigated whether a similar contextual benefit for discrimination would occur for objects when they are presented in a scene context. Subjects discriminated between two objects in a two-alternative forced choice paradigm. Objects could appear on one of three possible backgrounds: a semantically consistent scene, a semantically inconsistent scene, or a 100% phase scrambled scene. Much like the word superiority effect paradigm, both target objects were equally consistent with a given background, making the backgrounds uninformative to doing the main task. Regardless, subjects still demonstrated a benefit for discriminating between two objects on a semantically consistent background compared to a semantically inconsistent background. Further experiments explored the mechanism behind the benefit. In order to test whether the effect of a semantically consistent background on object discrimination was the result of perceptual enhancement for the semantically consistent objects, we repeated the experiment using different instances of the same object (e.g., two different alarm clocks). Data for discriminating between instances of the same object differ from those for discriminating between two different objects, suggesting a different mechanism for the effect.
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