Visual Shape Perception as Bayesian Inference of 3D Object-Centered Shape Representations

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Abstract

Despite decades of research, little is known about how people visually perceive object shape. We hypothesize that a promising approach to shape perception is provided by a “visual perception as Bayesian inference” framework which augments an emphasis on visual representation with an emphasis on the idea that shape perception is a form of statistical inference. Our hypothesis claims that shape perception of unfamiliar objects can be characterized as statistical inference of 3D shape in an object-centered coordinate system. We describe a computational model based on our theoretical framework, and provide evidence for the model along two lines. First, we show that, counterintuitively, the model accounts for viewpoint-dependency of object recognition, traditionally regarded as evidence against people’s use of 3D object-centered shape representations. Second, we report the results of an experiment using a shape similarity task, and present an extensive evaluation of existing models’ abilities to account for the experimental data. We find that our shape inference model captures subjects’ behaviors better than competing models. Taken as a whole, our experimental and computational results illustrate the promise of our approach and suggest that people’s shape representations of unfamiliar objects are probabilistic, 3D, and object-centered.

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