Observer biases in the 3D interpretation of line drawings

Pascal Mamassian, Michael S. Landy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Line drawings produced by contours traced on a surface can produce a vivid impression of the surface shape. The stability of this perception is notable considering that the information provided by the surface contours is quite ambiguous. We have studied the stability of line drawing perception from psychophysical and computational standpoints. For a given family of simple line drawings, human observers could perceive the drawings as depicting either an elliptic (egg-shaped) or hyperbolic (saddle-shaped) smooth surface patch. Rotation of the image along the line of sight and change in aspect ratio of the line drawing could bias the observer toward either interpretation. The results were modeled by a simple Bayesian observer that computes the probability to choose either interpretation given the information in the image and prior preferences. The model's decision rule is noncommitting: for a given input image its responses are still probabilistic, reflecting variability in the modeled observers' judgements. A good fit to the data was obtained when three observer assumptions were introduced: a preference for convex surfaces, a preference for surface contours aligned with the principal lines of curvature, and a preference for a surface orientation consistent with an object viewed from above. We discuss how these assumptions might reflect regularities of the visual world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2817-2832
Number of pages16
JournalVision research
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 1998


  • Geodesic curves
  • Line drawings
  • Surface contours

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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