Visual Scene Perception.
Oliva, A. (2009). Chapter in the Sage Encyclopaedia of Perception. Ed: Bruce Goldstein.
Introduction: A visual scene is commonly defined as a view of an environment comprised of objects and surfaces organized in a meaningful way, like a kitchen, a street or a forest path. More broadly, the domain of scene perception encompasses any visual stimulus that contains multiple elements arranged in a spatial layout, for example a shelf of books, an office desk, or leaves on the ground. As a rough distinction, objects are typically acted upon, while scenes are acted within. Most visual elements in the world will be categorized as either an object or scene, although an item’s status may change depending on how it is used: a keyboard is readily regarded as an object when being purchased, for example, but when placed on the desk, it becomes part of a continuous surface and layout, and a scene (for your hands), when you are trying to find the right key. The complex arrangement of objects and surfaces in natural scenes can create the impression that there is too much to see at once. However, we are able to interpret the meaning of multifaceted and complex scene images- a wedding, a birthday party, or a stadium crowd - in a fraction of a second! This is about the same time it takes a person to identify that a single object is a face, a dog or a car. This remarkable feat of the human brain can be experienced (and enjoyed!) at the movies: with a few rapid scene cuts from a movie trailer, it seems as if we have seen and understood much more of the story in a few instants than could be described later. We will easily remember the movie’s genre and limited context (for example, a romantic story with views of Venice, or a science fiction story set in the near future), but we will have forgotten detailed information. The same phenomenon happens when quickly changing television channels or flipping pages of a magazine: one single glance is often enough to recognize a popular TV personality, a high-speed car chase, a football game, etc., but memory of the details is wiped away almost immediately. Perceiving scenes in a glance is like looking at an abstract painting of a landscape and recognizing that a “forest” is depicted without seeing necessarily the “trees” that create it. [Contact the author for a full version of the chapter].