The Influence of Painting Composition on Human Perception

in Seeing and Perceiving
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Artists have long explored the way in which we see the world, and they have developed their own tools to portray their vision. The present study investigated whether the compositional information in paintings, an artistic device invented by artists, is utilized when people view paintings. In Experiment 1, we categorized paintings depending on their compositions through experts’ ratings. Using the stimuli from Experiment 1, Experiment 2 tested if the compositional information interferes with a target detection task. We found that the false alarms increased when the targets and distracters had the same composition compared to when they were different. Finally, Experiments 3A and 3B examined whether composition information influences the perceptual similarity of paintings. Through a multi-dimensional scaling analysis, we first showed that paintings with the same composition were proximately located in the mental space (Experiment 3A). Using this distance from the MDS analysis, we found that performance on the target detection task decreased as this distance became close (Experiment 3B). These results suggest that people make use of compositions in paintings, thus providing a possible link between artworks and the human visual system.

The Influence of Painting Composition on Human Perception

in Seeing and Perceiving



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    Proportions (%) of fitness rating scores of how close the paintings are to the typical compositions.

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    The procedure of Experiment 2: each trial was initiated with a black fixation cross when the participants pressed the space bar. A cue screen which indicated the target proceeded for 1000 ms followed by a black fixation cross for 1000 ms. Then, an RSVP sequence of 6 images was presented for 450 ms (75 ms each). A blue fixation cross appeared at the end for the participants to report whether or not they detected (via the ‘1’ key for yes or the ‘2’ key for no) the target within the RSVP stream.

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    The hit (a) and false alarm rates (b) obtained from Experiment 2. Error bars denote the standard errors of the mean.

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    The procedure of Experiment 3: (a) examples of the timelines of the learning phase. A trial began with a fixation cross after a click of the wheel button on the mouse by the participant. Then, an image and a number appeared on the screen simultaneously for 1000 ms for the participants to memorize. (b) Examples of the timelines of the testing phase. A trial was initiated in the same way as the learning phase. A cue screen was presented for 75 ms followed by a fixation cross for 1000 ms. Then, a number pad was shown for the participants to click on the numbers that they had learned during the cue image.

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    The results of Experiment 3A: (a) the result obtained by the MDS analysis. Two paintings with the same composition contributed to one point. (b) Mean distances among within-composition data points for defined (HOR-L, PYR-L, VER-P and PYR-P) and non-defined (NEU-L and NEU-P) compositions in the mental space.

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    The hit (a) and false alarm rates (b) obtained from Experiment 3B. Error bars denote the standard error of the mean.

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