Fechner, Information, and Shape Perception

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2011 Nov;73(8):2353-78. doi: 10.3758/s13414-011-0197-4.


How do retinal images lead to perceived environmental objects? Vision involves a series of spatial and material transformations--from environmental objects to retinal images, to neurophysiological patterns, and finally to perceptual experience and action. A rationale for understanding functional relations among these physically different systems occurred to Gustav Fechner: Differences in sensation correspond to differences in physical stimulation. The concept of information is similar: Relationships in one system may correspond to, and thus represent, those in another. Criteria for identifying and evaluating information include (a) resolution, or the precision of correspondence; (b) uncertainty about which input (output) produced a given output (input); and (c) invariance, or the preservation of correspondence under transformations of input and output. We apply this framework to psychophysical evidence to identify visual information for perceiving surfaces. The elementary spatial structure shared by objects and images is the second-order differential structure of local surface shape. Experiments have shown that human vision is directly sensitive to this higher-order spatial information from interimage disparities (stereopsis and motion parallax), boundary contours, texture, shading, and combined variables. Psychophysical evidence contradicts other common ideas about retinal information for spatial vision and object perception.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Color Perception / physiology
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology
  • Depth Perception / physiology*
  • Differential Threshold*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Normal Distribution
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Psychophysics
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Surface Properties
  • Uncertainty
  • Vision Disparity / physiology*