Object-based warping: an illusory distortion of space within objects

Psychol Sci. 2010 Dec;21(12):1759-64. doi: 10.1177/0956797610388046. Epub 2010 Nov 10.


Visual objects are high-level primitives that are fundamental to numerous perceptual functions, such as guidance of attention. We report that objects warp visual perception of space in such a way that spatial distances within objects appear to be larger than spatial distances in ground regions. When two dots were placed inside a rectangular object, they appeared farther apart from one another than two dots with identical spacing outside of the object. To investigate whether this effect was object based, we measured the distortion while manipulating the structure surrounding the dots. Object displays were constructed with a single object, multiple objects, a partially occluded object, and an illusory object. Nonobject displays were constructed to be comparable to object displays in low-level visual attributes. In all cases, the object displays resulted in a more powerful distortion of spatial perception than comparable non-object-based displays. These results suggest that perception of space within objects is warped.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Sensitivity
  • Form Perception
  • Humans
  • Optical Illusions*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Space Perception*