Visual Perception Involves Event-Type Representations: The Case of Containment Versus Occlusion

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Recent infant cognition research suggests that core knowledge involves event-type representations: During perception, the mind automatically categorizes physical events into broad types (e.g., occlusion and containment), which then guide attention to different properties (e.g., with width processed at a younger age than height in containment events but not occlusion events). We tested whether this aspect of infant cognition also structures adults’ visual processing. In 6 experiments, adults had to detect occasional changes in ongoing dynamic displays that depicted repeating occlusion or containment events. Mirroring the developmental progression, change detection was better for width versus height changes in containment events, but no such difference was found for otherwise equivalent occlusion events, even though most observers were not even aware of the subtle occlusion–containment difference. These results suggest for the first time that event-type representations exist and operate automatically and unconsciously as part of the underlying currency of adult visual cognition.

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