Expertise in pictorial perception: eye-movement patterns and visual memory in artists and laymen

Perception. 2007;36(1):91-100. doi: 10.1068/p5262.


In two sessions with free scanning and memory instructions, eye-movement patterns from nine artists were compared with those of nine artistically untrained participants viewing 16 pictures representing a selection of categories from ordinary scenes to abstraction: 12 pictures were made to accommodate an object-oriented viewing mode (selection of recognisable objects), and a pictorial viewing mode (selection of more structural features), and 4 were abstract. The artistically untrained participants showed preference for viewing human features and objects, while the artists spent more scanning time on structural/abstract features. A group by session interaction showed a change of viewing strategy in the artists, who viewed more objects and human features in the memory task session. A verbal test of recall memory showed no overall difference in the number of pictures remembered, but the number of correctly remembered pictorial features was significantly higher for artists than for the artistically untrained viewers, irrespective of picture type. No differences in fixation frequencies/durations were found between groups across sessions, but a significant task-dependent-group by session interaction of fixation frequency/duration showed that the artistically untrained participants demonstrated repetition effects in fewer, longer fixations with repeated viewing, while the opposite pattern obtained for the artists.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Paintings*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics