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Zhe-Xin Xu, Yan Chen, Shu-Guang Kuai; The human visual system estimates angle features in an internal reference frame: A computational and psychophysical study. Journal of Vision 2018;18(13):10. doi: 10.1167/18.13.10.
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Angle perception is an important middle-level visual process, combining line features to generate an integrated shape percept. Previous studies have proposed two theories of angle perception—a combination of lines and a holistic feature following Weber's law. However, both theories failed to explain the dual-peak fluctuations of the just-noticeable difference (JND) across angle sizes. In this study, we found that the human visual system processes the angle feature in two stages: first, by encoding the orientation of the bounding lines and combining them into an angle feature; and second, by estimating the angle in an orthogonal internal reference frame (IRF). The IRF model fits well with the dual-peak fluctuations of the JND that neither the theory of line combinations nor Weber's law can explain. A statistical image analysis of natural images revealed that the IRF was in alignment with the distribution of the angle features in the natural environment, suggesting that the IRF reflects human prior knowledge of angles in the real world. This study provides a new computational framework for angle discrimination, thereby resolving a long-standing debate on angle perception.
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