Indexed on: 15 Aug '14Published on: 15 Aug '14Published in: PloS one
The ability to quickly categorize visual scenes is critical to daily life, allowing us to identify our whereabouts and to navigate from one place to another. Rapid scene categorization relies heavily on the kinds of objects scenes contain; for instance, studies have shown that recognition is less accurate for scenes to which incongruent objects have been added, an effect usually interpreted as evidence of objects' general capacity to activate semantic networks for scene categories they are statistically associated with. Essentially all real-world scenes contain multiple objects, however, and it is unclear whether scene recognition draws on the scene associations of individual objects or of object groups. To test the hypothesis that scene recognition is steered, at least in part, by associations between object groups and scene categories, we asked observers to categorize briefly-viewed scenes appearing with object pairs that were semantically consistent or inconsistent with the scenes. In line with previous results, scenes were less accurately recognized when viewed with inconsistent versus consistent pairs. To understand whether this reflected individual or group-level object associations, we compared the impact of pairs composed of mutually related versus unrelated objects; i.e., pairs, which, as groups, had clear associations to particular scene categories versus those that did not. Although related and unrelated object pairs equally reduced scene recognition accuracy, unrelated pairs were consistently less capable of drawing erroneous scene judgments towards scene categories associated with their individual objects. This suggests that scene judgments were influenced by the scene associations of object groups, beyond the influence of individual objects. More generally, the fact that unrelated objects were as capable of degrading categorization accuracy as related objects, while less capable of generating specific alternative judgments, indicates that the process by which objects interfere with scene recognition is separate from the one through which they inform it.