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Symmetry impedes symmetry discrimination


Tjan,  BS
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Tjan, B. (2005). Symmetry impedes symmetry discrimination. Journal of Vision, 5(10), 888-900. doi:10.1167/5.10.10.

Objects in the world, natural and artificial alike, are often bilaterally symmetric. The visual system is likely to take advantage of this regularity to encode shapes for efficient object recognition. The nature of encoding a symmetric shape, and of encoding any departure from it, is therefore an important matter in visual perception. We addressed this issue of shape encoding empirically, noting that a particular encoding scheme necessarily leads to a specific profile of sensitivity in perceptual discriminations. We studied symmetry discrimination using human faces and random dots. Each face stimulus was a frontal view of a three-dimensional (3-D) face model. The 3-D face model was a linearly weighted average (a morph) between the model of an original face and that of the corresponding mirror face. Using this morphing technique to vary the degree of asymmetry, we found that, for faces and analogously generated random-dot patterns alike, symmetry discrimination was worst when the stimuli were nearly symmetric, in apparent opposition to almost all studies in the literature. We analyzed the previous work and reconciled the old and new results using a generic model with a simple nonlinearity. By defining asymmetry as the minimal difference between the left and right halves of an object, we found that the visual system was disproportionately more sensitive to larger departures from symmetry than to smaller ones. We further demonstrated that our empirical and modeling results were consistent with Weber–Fechner‘s and Stevens‘s laws.