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Multisensory Recognition of Objects


Bülthoff,  HH
Department Human Perception, Cognition and Action, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Bülthoff, H. (2000). Multisensory Recognition of Objects. Talk presented at 3. Tübinger Wahrnehmungskonferenz (TWK 2000). Tübingen, Germany.

these representations are useful, if not essential, in a wide variety of cognitive tasks such as identification of objects, guiding actions and in directing spatial awareness and attention. Determining the properties of this representation has long since been a contentious issue. One method of probing the nature of human representation is by determining the extent to which it can surpass or go beyond visual (or sensory) experience. From a strictly empiricist standpoint what cannot be seen cannot be represented; except as a combination of things that have been experienced. In this case representation is always limited by experience and one such limitation on experience is that we always perceive the world from a specific viewpoint determined by our position in space. We show that going beyond experience is extremely difficult to do. This is demonstrated mainly by the learning and recognition of objects, both novel and familiar. However, from a psychological standpoint it is pointless discussing representation devoid of the functional role it plays in facilitating cognitive tasks. In considering the functional role of representation we must shed the simplifying assumption of an independent and modular visual system that reconstructs distal space and replace it with a functional definition which depends on the cognitive task and which is limited by attention. We therefore also present an overview of a new series of ‘old-fashioned’ object and scene recognition studies carried out within realistic, interactive, contexts. We find the most flexible means of looking at the functional role of representation is within virtual (computer generated) contexts. Computer simulations can now provide both highly realistic visual contexts as well as realistic interactivity, including feedback. We demonstrate how this new technology can be used to address an old problem. In cases where this technology is not advanced enough to provide multisensory information about the shape of objects we used real objects made out of LegoTM bricks. With these objects we studied how the brain exchanges visual and haptic information to build a more complete representation of object shape learned in one orientation and tested in a different orientation. We found that visual as well as haptic recognition strongly depends on the orientation difference between training and testing. Interestingly we found that recognition across modalities was best for rotations that involved an exchange between the front and back of an object. Taken together, we conclude that the visual and haptic system code view-specific representations of objects, but each system has its own "view"of an object. For the visual system it is the surface of the object facing the observer; for the haptic system, it is the surface of the object that the fingers explore more extensively, namely, the backside of the object.