Object recognition improves when other objects appear in the same orientation

July 19, 2005

A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but tilt it at an unexpected angle and it may still be easy to smell, just not recognize. That is, unless you saw another object -- even an unrelated one -- presented at the same angle.

Researchers Markus Graf, Daniel Kaping, and H. H. Bulthoff of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Germany found that despite the misorientation that occurs when objects are at an unusual angle, we are able to reorient ourselves to the new angle and are able to recognize another object at the same unusual angle more easily than the first.

"[O]bject recognition is achieved by performing coordinate transformations that compensate for spatial transformations," they conclude. It's easier for us to see and recognize familiar objects which are presented at their known orientation. When these objects are presented at an unexpected angle, it becomes more difficult to process them.

The findings are presented in the article, "Orientation Congruency Effects for Familiar Objects," in the March 2005 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.

In the study reported in the article, subjects were shown, in rapid succession, two dissimilar objects at an angle on a three-dimension plane. In one test, the objects were congruentâ€"at the same angleâ€"while in the other they were incongruent. Participants were more accurate in identifying objects that were rotated to the same degree. The researchers concluded that because the congruent objects were more easily recognized, the coordinate system undergoes a temporary alteration.

"When a rotated object is displayed, the coordinate system is adjusted," Graf said. "When a second object is presented in the same orientation as the first object, recognition should be easier, because the frame of reference is already adjusted." Indeed, the results indicate that you can recognize a misoriented dog better when it is presented in the same orientation as another object (e.g. a bicycle) shown immediately before.

"Objects are recognized more easily when they are presented in the same picture-plane orientation as a previously presented object than when they are in a different orientation," the authors wrote.
For more information, contact Graf at markus.graf@cbs.mpg.de. Download the article at http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2005/pr050719.cfm.

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information. The American Psychological Society represents psychologists advocating science-based research in the public's interest.

Association for Psychological Science

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