Visual estimation under risk

Michael S. Landy, Ross Goutcher, Julia Trommershäuser, Pascal Mamassian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigate whether observers take into account their visual uncertainty in an optimal manner in a perceptual estimation task with explicit rewards and penalties for performance. Observers judged the mean orientation of a briefly presented texture consisting of a collection of line segments. The mean and, in some experiments, the variance of the distribution of line orientations changed from trial to trial. Subjects tried to maximize the number of points won in a "bet" on the mean texture orientation. They placed their bet by rotating a visual display that indicated two ranges of orientations: a reward region and a neighboring penalty region. Subjects won 100 points if the mean texture orientation fell within the reward region, and subjects lost points (0, 100, or 500, in separate blocks) if the mean orientation fell in the penalty region. We compared each subject's performance to a decision strategy that maximizes expected gain (MEG). For the nonzero-penalty conditions, this ideal strategy predicts subjects will adjust the payoff display to shift the center of the reward region away from the perceived mean texture orientation, putting the perceived mean orientation on the opposite side of the reward region from the penalty region. This shift is predicted to be larger for (1) larger penalties, (2) penalty regions located closer to the payoff region, and (3) larger stimulus variability. While some subjects' performance was nearly optimal, other subjects displayed a variety of suboptimal strategies when stimulus variability was high and changed unpredictably from trial to trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4
JournalJournal of vision
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 12 2007


  • Optimality
  • Oreintation estimation
  • Statistical decision threory
  • Texture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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