The role of sensory uncertainty in simple contour integration

Yanli Zhou, Luigi Acerbi, Wei Ji Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Perceptual organization is the process of grouping scene elements into whole entities. A classic example is contour integration, in which separate line segments are perceived as continuous contours. Uncertainty in such grouping arises from scene ambiguity and sensory noise. Some classic Gestalt principles of contour integration, and more broadly, of perceptual organization, have been re-framed in terms of Bayesian inference, whereby the observer computes the probability that the whole entity is present. Previous studies that proposed a Bayesian interpretation of perceptual organization, however, have ignored sensory uncertainty, despite the fact that accounting for the current level of perceptual uncertainty is one the main signatures of Bayesian decision making. Crucially, trial-by-trial manipulation of sensory uncertainty is a key test to whether humans perform near-optimal Bayesian inference in contour integration, as opposed to using some manifestly non-Bayesian heuristic. We distinguish between these hypotheses in a simplified form of contour integration, namely judging whether two line segments separated by an occluder are collinear. We manipulate sensory uncertainty by varying retinal eccentricity. A Bayes-optimal observer would take the level of sensory uncertainty into account-in a very specific way-in deciding whether a measured offset between the line segments is due to non-collinearity or to sensory noise. We find that people deviate slightly but systematically from Bayesian optimality, while still performing “probabilistic computation” in the sense that they take into account sensory uncertainty via a heuristic rule. Our work contributes to an understanding of the role of sensory uncertainty in higher-order perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1006308
JournalPLoS computational biology
Volume16
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 30 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics

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