Time Course with which Representations of Layout Become Functional

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Brief exposure to a known scene activates a representation of its layout that is functional—it contributes to (facilitates/speeds) subsequent processing of spatial relations across the scene (Sanocki & Epstein, 1997, Psychological Science; Sanocki, 2003, Cognitive Psychology). Here, new and converging methods are introduced to examine the time course with which layout representations become functional, and to examine the scope (scenic breadth) of processing as a function of time. Full color pictures of scenes were used. On each trial two locations from throughout the scene were marked by red probes, and observers indicated which probe (left or right) was closer to viewpoint. Reaction time was the main measure. Between 1 and 0 sec before probe onset, the scene appeared. This was a “lead time” during which a scene representation could develop and become functional before the probes appeared. If so, then reaction time to the probes should decrease as lead time increases beyond zero. Further, with increasing lead time the functions should reach an asymptotic benefit level (minimal RT) indicating full functionality of the representation. Control lead time displays should produce shallower functions, with any reductions reflecting general preparation effects. Time course functions were deeper with scene leads than control, by as much as 58 ms. After minutes of practice, the functions asymptoted quickly (within 200 ms), indicating rapid preparation of the layout representation. A manipulation similar to “display size” suggested efficient parallel processing across the scene. The scenes varied from simple (1 simple object, 3 surfaces total) to complex (4 multipart, obliquely oriented objects, 24 surfaces). Functional asymptotes were reached equally fast across complexity, suggesting that layout processing was independent of traditional capacity. Complex layout representations develop and become functional rapidly and in parallel across the scene.

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Journal of Vision, v. 4, issue 8, art. 125