Global Ensemble Texture Representations are Critical to Rapid Scene Perception

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Traditionally, recognizing the objects within a scene has been treated as a prerequisite to recognizing the scene itself. However, research now suggests that the ability to rapidly recognize visual scenes could be supported by global properties of the scene itself rather than the objects within the scene. Here, we argue for a particular instantiation of this view: That scenes are recognized by treating them as a global texture and processing the pattern of orientations and spatial frequencies across different areas of the scene without recognizing any objects. To test this model, we asked whether there is a link between how proficient individuals are at rapid scene perception and how proficiently they represent simple spatial patterns of orientation information (global ensemble texture). We find a significant and selective correlation between these tasks, suggesting a link between scene perception and spatial ensemble tasks but not nonspatial summary statistics In a second and third experiment, we additionally show that global ensemble texture information is not only associated with scene recognition, but that preserving only global ensemble texture information from scenes is sufficient to support rapid scene perception; however, preserving the same information is not sufficient for object recognition. Thus, global ensemble texture alone is sufficient to allow activation of scene representations but not object representations. Together, these results provide evidence for a view of scene recognition based on global ensemble texture rather than a view based purely on objects or on nonspatially localized global properties.

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