Cue dynamics underlying rapid detection of animals in natural scenes

J Vis. 2009 Jul 10;9(7):7. doi: 10.1167/9.7.7.


Humans are known to be good at rapidly detecting animals in natural scenes. Evoked potential studies indicate that the corresponding neural signals can emerge in the brain within 150 msec of stimulus onset (S. Thorpe, D. Fize, & C. Marlot, 1996) and eye movements toward animal targets can be initiated in roughly the same timeframe (H. Kirchner & S. J. Thorpe, 2006). Given the speed of this discrimination, it has been suggested that the underlying visual mechanisms must be relatively simple and feedforward, but in fact little is known about these mechanisms. A key step is to understand the visual cues upon which these mechanisms rely. Here we investigate the role and dynamics of four potential cues: two-dimensional boundary shape, texture, luminance, and color. Results suggest that the fastest mechanisms underlying animal detection in natural scenes use shape as a principal discriminative cue, while somewhat slower mechanisms integrate these rapidly computed shape cues with image texture cues. Consistent with prior studies, we find little role for luminance and color cues throughout the time course of visual processing, even though information relevant to the task is available in these signals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Color Perception
  • Cues*
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception*