Minimodularity and the Perception of Layout

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In natural vision, information overspecifies the relative distances between objects and their layout in three dimensions. Directed perception applies (Cutting, 1986), rather than direct or indirect perception, because any single source of information (or cue) might be adequate to reveal relative depth (or local depth order), but many are present and useful to observers. Such overspecification presents the theoretical problem of how perceivers use this multiplicity of information to arrive at a unitary appreciation of distance between objects in the environment.This article examines three models of directed perception: selection, in which only one source of information is used; addition, in which all sources are used in simple combination; and multiplication, in which interactions among sources can occur. To establish perceptual overspecification, we created stimuli with four possible sources of monocular spatial information, using all combinations of the presence or absence of relative size, height in the projection plane, occlusion, and motion parallax. Visual stimuli were computer generated and consisted of three untextured parallel planes arranged in depth. Three tasks were used: one of magnitude estimation of exocentric distance within a stimulus, one of dissimilarity judgment in how a pair of stimuli revealed depth, and one of choice judgment within a pair as to which one revealed depth best.Grouped and individual results of the one direct and two indirect scaling tasks suggest that perceivers use these sources of information in an additive fashion. That is, one source (or cue) is generally substitutable for another, and the more sources that are present, the more depth is revealed. This pattern of results suggests independent use of information by four separate, functional subsystems within the visual system, here called minimodules. Evidence for and advantages of minimodularity are discussed.

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