August 2016
Volume 16, Issue 12
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2016
Instinctive drift in the illusory perception of objects: The ready perception of animate objects in random noise
Author Affiliations
  • Joshua New
    Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Sarah Lazarsfeld
    Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Mary Seo
    Barnard College, Columbia University
  • Melyssa Luxenberg
    Barnard College, Columbia University
Journal of Vision September 2016, Vol.16, 1402. doi:
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      Joshua New, Sarah Lazarsfeld, Mary Seo, Melyssa Luxenberg; Instinctive drift in the illusory perception of objects: The ready perception of animate objects in random noise . Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):1402.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Pareidolias are the illusory perception of meaningful objects – often faces – in random, unpatterned stimuli. We evaluated the hypothesis that a biological preparedness for detecting animate objects (people and animals) makes their illusory experience especially likely and explored which manners of visual noise and features might contribute to their occurrence. In Experiment I, participants were asked to trace and label any objects appearing in unchanging or slowly changing displays of Perlin noise – a gradient noise which approximates the natural phenomena in which pareidolias are commonly experienced (e.g. clouds). Nearly half of the pareidolias reported were of people, followed in frequency by animals, then artifacts, then plants and other inanimate objects. Pareidolias were reported as frequently in unchanging noise as they were in slowly changing noise. In Experiment II, slowly changing Perlin noise was again particularly evocative of pareidolias of people and somewhat of animals – whereas displays filled with slowly changing Gaussian or uniform noise were more likely to provoke pareidolias of inanimate objects. In Experiment III, participants experienced more illusory objects when many small curvilinear, or rectilinear segments, or both, were embedded in slowly changing Gaussian noise. Even in Gaussian noise, animals were reported most often, driven largely by their frequent perception amongst curvilinear segments. These preliminary studies 1) confirm that neurologically-typical individuals will readily and illusorily experience complex and meaningful objects in random noise, 2) suggest that animate objects are especially likely to be illusorily perceived and 3) constitute a novel approach for uncovering the fundamental visual features (i.e. curvilinearity) involved in the perception of animate objects and perhaps of other natural categories.

Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016


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