Yi-Chia Chen

VSS Best Poster Awards 2014

Consistent inward biases in visual perception and aesthetic preferences

Chen, Y. -C., & Scholl, B. J. (2014). Seeing and liking from the outside in: Consistent inward biases in visual perception and aesthetic preferences. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Vision Sciences Society, 5/17/14, St. Pete Beach, FL.

Perception, as represented by most vision science research, is the process of recovering the physical structure of the world from shifting patterns of retinal images. But actual visual experience nearly always transcends this characterization. An especially salient example involves theaesthetic qualities of perception: it is often impossible to see something without also liking or disliking it. It may be possible to explain some (perhaps small) percentage of such experiences in terms of underlying regularities of visual processing. Even when studied in this way, however, aesthetic experience is often treated as being a later, independent aspect of perception.

Here, in contrast, we explore how aesthetic preferences may interact with other types of visual processing. We were inspired by the inward bias in aesthetic preferences: when an object with a salient "front" is placed near the border of a frame (say, in a photograph), observers find the image more aesthetically pleasing if the object faces inward (toward the center) vs. outward (away from the center). We employed framed stimuli that were ambiguous in terms of the direction they appeared to be facing. For example, an equilateral triangle can be seen as pointing in the direction of any of its three vertices. Our observers' percepts were influenced by the frames in a way that corresponded to the inward bias: when a triangle was placed near a frame's border, observers tended to see whichever interpretation was facing inward. The same observers also judged an unambiguous version of the figure -- an otherwise matched "drop" figure -- as more aesthetically pleasing when it pointed inward. This match between the inward bias in aesthetic perception and ambiguous-figure perception suggests new ways in which aesthetic factors may relate not only to what we like, but also to what we see in the first place.