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Filipp Schmidt, Roland W. Fleming, Matteo Valsecchi; Softness and weight from shape: Material properties inferred from local shape features. Journal of Vision 2020;20(6):2. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/jov.20.6.2.
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Object shape is an important cue to material identity and for the estimation of material properties. Shape features can affect material perception at different levels: at a microscale (surface roughness), mesoscale (textures and local object shape), or megascale (global object shape) level. Examples for local shape features include ripples in drapery, clots in viscous liquids, or spiraling creases in twisted objects. Here, we set out to test the role of such shape features on judgments of material properties softness and weight. For this, we created a large number of novel stimuli with varying surface shape features. We show that those features have distinct effects on softness and weight ratings depending on their type, as well as amplitude and frequency, for example, increasing numbers and pointedness of spikes makes objects appear harder and heavier. By also asking participants to name familiar objects, materials, and transformations they associate with our stimuli, we can show that softness and weight judgments do not merely follow from semantic associations between particular stimuli and real-world object shapes. Rather, softness and weight are estimated from surface shape, presumably based on learned heuristics about the relationship between a particular expression of surface features and material properties. In line with this, we show that correlations between perceived softness or weight and surface curvature vary depending on the type of surface feature. We conclude that local shape features have to be considered when testing the effects of shape on the perception of material properties such as softness and weight.
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