Perception is rich and probabilistic

Syaheed B. Jabar, Daryl Fougnie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When we see a stimulus, e.g. a star-shaped object, our intuition is that we should perceive a single, coherent percept (even if it is inaccurate). But the neural processes that support perception are complex and probabilistic. Simple lines cause orientation-selective neurons across a population to fire in a probabilistic-like manner. Does probabilistic neural firing lead to non-probabilistic perception, or are the representations behind perception richer and more complex than intuition would suggest? To test this, we briefly presented a complex shape and had participants report the correct shape from a set of options. Rather than reporting a single value, we used a paradigm designed to encourage to directly report a representation over shape space-participants placed a series of Gaussian bets. We found that participants could report more than point-estimates of shape. The spread of responses was correlated with accuracy, suggesting that participants can convey a notion of relative imprecision. Critically, as participants placed more bets, the mean of responses show increased precision. The later bets were systematically biased towards the target rather than haphazardly placed around bet 1. These findings strongly indicate that participants were aware of more than just a point-estimate; Perceptual representations are rich and likely probabilistic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13172
Number of pages1
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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