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Recognising the forest, but not the trees: an effect of colour on scene perception and recognition

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 14:34 authored by Tanja C W Nijboer, Ryota Kanai, Edward H F de Haan, Maarten J van der Smagt
Colour has been shown to facilitate the recognition of scene images, but only when these images contain natural scenes, for which colour is 'diagnostic'. Here we investigate whether colour can also facilitate memory for scene images, and whether this would hold for natural scenes in particular. In the first experiment participants first studied a set of colour and greyscale natural and man-made scene images. Next, the same images were presented, randomly mixed with a different set. Participants were asked to indicate whether they had seen the images during the study phase. Surprisingly, performance was better for greyscale than for coloured images, and this difference is due to the higher false alarm rate for both natural and man-made coloured scenes. We hypothesized that this increase in false alarm rate was due to a shift from scrutinizing details of the image to recognition of the gist of the (coloured) image. A second experiment, utilizing images without a nameable gist, confirmed this hypothesis as participants now performed equally on greyscale and coloured images. In the final experiment we specifically targeted the more detail-based perception and recognition for greyscale images versus the more gist-based perception and recognition for coloured images with a change detection paradigm. The results show that changes to images are detected faster when image-pairs were presented in greyscale than in colour. This counterintuitive result held for both natural and man-made scenes (but not for scenes without nameable gist) and thus corroborates the shift from more detailed processing of images in greyscale to more gist-based processing of coloured images.


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  • Published


Consciousness and Cognition









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  • Psychology Publications

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