The Elephant in the Room: Inconsistency in Scene Viewing and Representation

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Abstract

We examined the extent to which semantic informativeness, consistency with expectations and perceptual salience contribute to object prioritization in scene viewing and representation. In scene viewing (Experiments 1–2), semantic guidance overshadowed perceptual guidance in determining fixation order, with the greatest prioritization for objects that were diagnostic of the scene’s depicted event. Perceptual properties affected selection of consistent objects (regardless of their informativeness) but not of inconsistent objects. Semantic and perceptual properties also interacted in influencing foveal inspection, as inconsistent objects were fixated longer than low but not high salience diagnostic objects. While not studied in direct competition with each other (each studied in competition with diagnostic objects), we found that inconsistent objects were fixated earlier and for longer than consistent but marginally informative objects. In change detection (Experiment 3), perceptual guidance overshadowed semantic guidance, promoting detection of highly salient changes. A residual advantage for diagnosticity over inconsistency emerged only when selection prioritization could not be based on low-level features. Overall these findings show that semantic inconsistency is not prioritized within a scene when competing with other relevant information that is essential to scene understanding and respects observers’ expectations. Moreover, they reveal that the relative dominance of semantic or perceptual properties during selection depends on ongoing task requirements.

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