My “Learning and Cognition” course is exploring visual perception this week, and we have been presented with several research projects to discuss on our blogs. I have chosen option 3, which is to examine the pictures on the following website and discuss how the cognitive psychology theories and neurological functions we are studying could explain how several of the pictures exploit human visual perception. If you have not already done so, please take a moment to view the pictures before continuing.
Allow me to begin with “How Many Faces” and “How Many Horses.” At first glance, I was able to find 5 faces immediately in “How Many Faces.” Eventually, I was able to find all 11 faces, although I am unsure if the faces I perceived were the ones I was meant to perceive, and I did have to spend some time REALLY looking and take some liberties with what is considered a face. As for the horses, initially I looked toward the legs to find the horses then realized trying to match four legs to a body was too taxing and confusing. I then realized finding the faces was a better strategy, and I found five horses. Sternberg and Sternberg (2009, p. 117) state that several cognitive psychologists have found that the fusiform gyrus in the temporal lobe responds intensely when humans perceive faces compared to perceiving other objects, but why? What is so special about the human face? My experience with the two pictures reminded me of a documentary I came across not too long ago about human evolution (I’ve tried to find it to share with my readers, but I cannot at this time, I will keep looking), and one of the ideas covered concerned how humans are “hard-wired” to see faces as a survival mechanism. The documentary proposed that humans see faces even where one is not intended to be seen, like in potato chips, the wood grain of a door, and even electrical outlets. This seems very much like the feature analysis system in which parts of objects are recognized and assembled into a whole (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2009, p. 116). Was I doing this when looking for all 11 faces in “How Many Faces” – seeking the eyes, nose, and mouth and trying to make complete faces with them? Could it have something to do with the fact that our planet has almost 10 billion people on it, all with different faces. How are we supposed to tell each other apart yet understand that we are all, despite some exceptions, the same?
“Mobius ring” and “A Roman and some impossible architecture” are fabulous examples of impossible figures manipulating the viewer’s depth cues. I found myself only wanting to look at specific parts of each of these pictures at any given time as well as darting around to the different parts, side to side on the ring and up and down on the architecture, never actually focusing on one part for too long. If I tried to look at these pictures as a whole, I felt drawn back to the parts (side to side, up and down), almost as if my brain was so confused it would not allow me to continue looking at the whole. Viewing smaller sections of the whole picture is not as confusing as viewing the whole picture because the parts of the whole offer conflicting information. “They are confusing because there is contradictory depth information in different sections of the pictures” (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2009, p. 124). M. C. Escher is famous for twisting depth cue perceptions in his art, and I recently came across a comic honoring him as well as portraying a few of his depth perception “tricks.”
“Jigsaw” and “A fascinating town” also trick the viewer utilizing monocular depth cues, meaning they “can be represented in just two dimensions and observed with just one eye” (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2009, p.124). Both pictures utilize relative size cues, meaning that the bigger objects appear closer and the smaller objects appear farther away, combined with aerial perspective, meaning that the parts of the image in focus appear closer and the parts out of focus appear farther away (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2009, p. 126). Just as with the ring and the architecture pictures discussed above, I felt my eyes never wanting to view the entire picture as a whole but drawn to specific parts of the picture where my brain felt less confused by the depth cues. In contrast, binocular depth cues require both eyes to work together to view a three-dimensional image. I remembered the stereograms that were so popular from my bachelor degree days, so I found an example to share with my readers. At first, it appears to be just a pattern of colored pixels, but if you sort of allow your eyes to blur in and out of focus while not looking directly at the picture, you can see a 3-dimensional object “pop-out” at you. I encourage my readers to comment as to what they see. Don’t get scared!
One final picture I would like to discuss because the connections are just amazing to me: “Do you find this hard to read?” This is a perfect example of a Gestalt principle of visual perception, specifically the figure-ground principle. The majority of printed material is black print on a white or off-white page, so our brains are trained to focus on the black print and we try to make sense of this while allowing the white parts of the picture to just fade into the background. But in actuality, this figure does the opposite, the white is the “foreground” and the black is the background, and the viewer should see the word “lift.” My personal connection with this particular Gestalt principle first occurred last summer when my mentor and school district’s “Director of Technology” retired resulting in her job being split into two jobs. She encouraged me to apply for one of the positions her job split into, but I did not get the job, which basically served as a catalyst to me seeking the CECS Master’s Degree (see Why I Chose CECS at UNT for the whole story). I saw her at a town festival a few months later, and she told me she wanted to give me something (pictured below). When I first looked at it, I was so confused! Having been a cross-stitcher myself, I focused on the needlework which appears to be a jumbled mess. Perhaps she knew what the future had in store for me! Understanding the “figure-ground” principle allows the viewer to see the true message. I also encourage my readers to comment as to what the message says.
Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2009). Cognitive Psychology (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.