Human observers categorize visual stimuli with remarkable efficiency--a result that has led to the suggestion that object and scene categorization may be automatic processes. We tested this hypothesis by presenting observers with a modified Stroop paradigm in which object or scene words were presented over images of objects or scenes. Terms were either congruent or incongruent with the images. Observers classified the words as being object or scene terms while ignoring images. Classifying a word on an incongruent image came at a cost for both objects and scenes. Furthermore, automatic processing was observed for entry-level scene categories, but not superordinate-level categories, suggesting that not all rapid categorizations are automatic. Taken together, we have demonstrated that entry-level visual categorization is an automatic and obligatory process.
Keywords: Stroop; basic-level categorization; object recognition; scene recognition.